Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
We, from the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, together with the Asia-Pacific Women’s Watch, the Abdul Momen Khan Memorial Foundation and Shirkat Gah, welcome the themes this year.
Women and young people continue to play a critical role in the sustainable development process. An integrated multi-dimensional framework, that includes economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing and keeps women and girls at the centre of implementing the new Agenda, is therefore critical. Principles of gender equality, human rights and development justice are also imperative. Equally significant is ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls throughout the life cycle, and addressing historical and structural inequalities. Pledges over the past 20 years and human rights commitments, together with the new Agenda have to be resourced and implemented for women’s empowerment.
The gains with maternal health, access to contraception and adequate universal access to a continuum of quality sexual and reproductive health care services have been limited in the Asia Pacific region. The lack of gender-sensitive and comprehensive sexuality education for all, including for the uneducated and out-of- school, and access to free, safe, equal and non-judgemental youth friendly SRH services is disturbing. The effects that climate change has on women and girls, including their health and SRHR, cannot be ignored.
Many countries continue to have high rates of child, early, and forced marriages and female genital mutilation and cutting, which affect all aspects of girls’ wellbeing. Narrow and patriarchal interpretations of religion are used to justify such practices, while exposing girls to violence. These acts take place without consent and respect for bodily integrity. Access to health services is controlled as a result of women and girls’ position within the family. They are considered the custodians of family norms and honour, therefore their bodies and sexualities, as well as freedom of movement, reproduction, and dress, become sites of control. Other forms of violence persist, including sexual violence against people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities. We need more effective laws and policies on rape, including marital rape, sexual assault and harassment, and effective implementation. Increasing armed conflicts, growing militarisation and extremism in the region continue to make women and girls vulnerable to violence.
It is time that governments realise that SDGs will not be achieved without the protection, fulfillment and respect for women’s human rights, including SRHR.