The Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20 began today. Over 400 women promptly sat in the United Nations conference room waiting for the forum to start with the welcoming remarks.
“We are here to share our struggle, strengthen our spirit, and reaffirm our commitment to women’s rights,” said Ravadee Prasertcharoensuk, on behalf of Thai women’s organizations. Prasertcharoensuk continued to explain that the CSO Forum is also the place where women will be able to make a strong and collective statement on their visions and expectations of States in their investment on women’s rights in the upcoming years. “Voices need to be heard loudly,” echoed Kate Lappin, co-coordinator of the CSO Steering Committee.
The welcoming remarks ended with the presentation of a video that illustrated the journey of women and feminist movements in the Asia Pacific since Beijing 1995. Participants clapped as images of Nasreen Hug. Amelia Rokotuivuna, Ruth Lechte, Rita Raj, Neang Ren, Yayori Matsui, Chandrika Sharma, Sunila Abeysekera, Irene Fernandez, Anchalee Phonklieng, and others flashed on the screen commemorating their lives and struggles in defending women’s rights in Asia and the Pacific.
Facilitators then lead panels on the following issues: i) the current activism taking place throughout the region on issues that were not included in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA); and ii) the continuing struggle of women to achieve development.
The session ended with a panel on accountability and implementation. UN Women explained the history behind and the importance of the Beijing review process as means of keeping States accountable.
The CSO Forum will continue on November 15-16, 2014 with a series of workshops to discuss women’s poverty, need for economic empowerment, education, and health. It will deliberate about armed conflict and women’s role in developing peace, women’s struggles against violence, and the need for power and women’s inclusion in decision-making and institutional mechanisms for their advancement. It will also look into everyday issues that affect women such as the media, migration, and the environment. (Check out the workshop sessions programme here).
Activism Today, What did Beijing Miss?
“The Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) has to be seen with new eyes,” said Cai Yiping, a women’s rights activist from China. She reiterated that women’s issues cannot be dealt with in silos. For instance, climate change and environmental inequality affect the poor and women are the majority amongst the poor. Similarly, the shift to talk about development is being done at the expense of women’s human rights when development goals should be seen in the light of human rights. Yiping ended by reminding participants that “We are here because we are the movement. We are part of a larger movement. We are the faces of the feminist women. Everyone is counted.”
Women also continue to struggle to achieve their human rights in and outside the BPfA’s critical areas of concern. Women activists from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, China, and Pakistan spoke about the work they are doing on issues that are still missing from the BPfA and in its implementation, such us migrant work, sex work, sexual orientation and gender identity, and disability.
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih spoke about her struggle as a former Indonesian domestic worker who had been held in slavery like conditions. “I have learnt many lessons from this experience. Through my case more cases have come out,” she said. Lilly Besoa, an internally displaced indigenous woman in Papua New Guinea, continues to work in situations of tribal conflict. “We try to get women into mediating for conflict and continue to educate women on peace and security,” she explained.
“I am a member of the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers—APNSW—and I am also proud to say I am a sex worker,” started to say Kay Thi Win. Thi Win stressed the importance of decriminalizing sex work in order to reduce violence and ended by saying, “[w]hen a women makes a decision to do sex work she has already empowered herself economically. She makes a decision to not be poor.”
Zhang Dandan spoke about the history of the lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) movement in Mainland China and the strengthening of this movement. She recalled the importance of the 1995 Beijing Conference. “For the first time we saw LBT people,” she said. She also insisted on the importance of integrating this issue into the BPfA and reminded women’s organizations of the need for visibility of LBT people, “When you talk about gender equality think about gender diversity,” Dandan said.
Abia Akram, who coordinates a network of women with disabilities in the region, continues to work to end the barriers of communication, information, and attitudes that women with disabilities face. “We need to make people understand that disability is just a diversity,” Akram said. “We also need to strongly engage women with disability and have them in leadership roles,” she added.
Women Continue Striving to Achieve Development
Representatives from organizations from the Philippines, Fiji, and India spoke about moments of achievements and moments of failure in their work to address the root causes of discrimination against women in achieving development justice. Vernie Yocogan-Diano—a Filipino indigenous people’s activist—recalled as a victory the formation and strengthening of indigenous women’s organizations and vibrant engagement of indigenous women with governments. However, she continues to be concerned about massive land grabbing and the taking over of indigenous people’s natural resources.
Noelene Nabulivou—a Fiji activist—highlighted the way in which civil society has been able to transform the global conversation on issues that were not recognized in the past, such as LBT rights, but considers that there is still a need to be bolder and stronger. Fathima Burnad Natesa, representing Dalit women in India, mentioned as a victory the occupation of land by Dalit women and their participation in high-level meetings where they were able to question the minister about policies and projects that affect Dalit women. She added, “Tribal women are working hard in transforming individual lives. We have the personal and collective courage of a movement.”
Finally, Sivananthi Thanenthiran, working with women’s organizations throughout the region, said “Autonomy of our bodies equals autonomy of our lives,” as she noted the lack of discussion of this issue in the global dialogues as a failure. However, she also stated the need to be true to women’s politics in the face of what feels like daily moments of failure.
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