Maria Melinda ‘Malyn’ Ando of ARROW was at the 4th session of the UNESCAP Committee on Social Development and she made the following interventions on behalf of ARROW and other CSOs present at the meeting.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m Maria Melinda Ando and on behalf of the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) and other NGOs here, I’d like to thank ESCAP for emphasizing health as one of the key challenges regarding implementation of the social dimension of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development in the region.
While maternal mortality indeed remains a big issue, I’d also like to draw your attention to other equally important challenges related to health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). For example:
● Access to the full range of contraception is still an issue. And while women have been having less children, they are still having more children than they want.
● Adolescent births, which bear increased risk of maternal deaths or morbidities, continue to be a challenge. Early and forced marriage is also a problem.
● Unsafe abortion continues to be a major factor in maternal deaths and morbidities in the region.
● Reproductive cancers are a major threat for women, but governments in the region are not adequately prepared to provide screening, preventive measures, treatment and care services.
● HIV-related stigma and discrimination are barriers to universal access to HIV prevention treatment, care and support in the region.
● Universal access to SRH services has been difficult to achieve even in countries where there are efforts to promote universal health coverage with: challenges in both supply and demand side and barriers including cultural factors, gender power relations, and privatization of health care.
● Contrary to leaving no one behind, access to information, including comprehensive sexuality education, and services for marginalised groups is a concern across all countries and the regional action plan must take efforts to ensure disaggregation of data.
● Sexual and reproductive health problems take a huge toll on lives, families, societies and economies—and public budgets—yet they are preventable, with proven, cost-effective solutions. Investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights has high payoffs for poverty eradication, social, economic and sustainable development, and for equality and equity.
We thus urge the Committee on Social Development to show political commitment and provide sustained financial investments to ensure universal access to comprehensive, affordable, quality, gender-sensitive health and nutrition information, education and services, including SRHR, at all stages and across all locations, even in times of emergencies, for all, including women, young people, people with disabilities, migrants, refugees and displaced peoples, indigenous peoples, small scale farmers, fisherfolk, people living with and affected by HIV, people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identities and gender expression, sex workers, religious and ethnic minorities, urban poor, and other groups. We also ask you to review, amend and implement laws and policies to address our needs and realities, and to uphold all human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.
To advance young people into Decent Work we need to address the lack of Decent Work for the majority of the workforce in the region. Asia Pacific has the highest gender pay gap, some of the lowest rates of union density, highest numbers of workplace deaths and injuries and extremely high levels of informal, exploitative work with little social protection or security. Women and young people are often in the most precarious employment.
We also need a regional solution to raising wages – one of the only ways to address inequality is to address the gap between capital and labour. To do that we need strong, independent and gender responsive trade unions. Where minimum wages exist, they often exclude domestic workers and other informal sector workers and don’t come close to the living wage required to support a family with dignity. The majority of women in the region work in the informal sector, with the single largest employment source and driver of migration being domestic work. Only 1 country (Philippines) in the region has ratified ILO convention 189 on domestic workers.
Unfortunately, the lack of decent job leads to large numbers of young people in the region to seek employment abroad. While this is seen to fuel nations such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Nepal due to high remittances, many of our young migrants are treated unequally and are discriminated simply because they are migrants. As we achieve Goals 4 and 8 in closing the gap of school-to-work to and sustain the economic growth of our countries, let us not forget that there are millions of migrants who move across our region whose rights to access social security or even healthcare in their destination countries are denied. Women migrants, who are mostly in domestic work, are particularly vulnerable to abuses and violence in destination countries. Many have no health insurance and even if they do, rarely would it cover sexual and reproductive health. In fact, migrants are deported due to HIV and Hepatitis B, and women migrants can be deported immediately when they get pregnant.