37 Asia-Pacific countries affirm commitment in advancing women’s rights

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 30 2019 09:12 AM

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thirty-seven countries from the Asia-Pacific have voted to adopt an outcome document which the Philippines led in reviewing and drafting, as the 3-day ministerial conference came to a close Friday.

A last-minute objection from the United States thwarted what participants had hoped would be a consensus document.
The US wanted to remove any reference to sexual and reproductive health rights, particularly abortion, which it said it does not recognize as a form of family planning. It also clarified it does not support programs supporting abortion.

Prior to the vote, Philippine delegate Maria May-I Fabros made an impassioned plea not to reopen the draft document or put it to a vote as participating countries had pored over it together, stressing that the document should be adopted by consensus.

Her rousing speech was met with applause by the delegates but because of the rules of the conference, a single participant who wishes to put a matter to a vote prevails.

But the US was the only country to oppose the adoption of the document, which the delegates worked on overnight, finishing at 10 am Friday morning. Its ‘No Vote’ was met with suppressed chuckles from some delegates.

The document, called Asia-Pacific Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing+25 Review, embodies commitments made by the participating countries in the conference, mostly reaffirming their 25-year-old commitment to achieve gender equality.

It calls on governments to intensify actions with respect to:

-    equitable and inclusive development, shared prosperity and decent work

-    poverty eradication, social protection and social and public services

-    freedom from violence, stigma, harmful stereotypes and negative social norms

It also includes increasing participation of women in national development strategies, addressing their particular needs in situations of conflict and displacement, and integrating a gender perspective on environmental conservation.

UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia hailed the passage of the outcome document.

“The significance of this region (to) be able to adopt this consensus document today, articulating clear and strategic actions to be taken to address the gender agenda, cannot be understated,” she said.

The Declaration will serve as the Asia-Pacific region’s input to the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women on the global review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in New York next March, according to a press release from the UN ESCAP and UN Women.

The Beijing Declaration, adopted in 1995, was considered a milestone document in advancing rights of women and achieving gender equality.

But not all were happy with the outcome.

In a press statement, over 150 civil society organizations (CSOs) said they were disappointed that the language of the document does not live up to the Beijing Declaration, supposedly reflecting the regression of women and gender human rights in the region.

“We are in the midst of a climate change crisis. We are becoming climate refugees and our Islands are sinking and yet the governments refuse to acknowledge this. As women, sexual minorities, disabilities and other marginalized identities, we face the brunt of the climate crisis daily. We cannot for another five years to have the commitment from the governments responsible to acknowledge this critical situation,” said Nalini Singh,Fiji Women’s Rights Forum, Fiji.

Other issues where the document is supposedly silent are on increased attacks on women human rights defenders, especially, indigenous, environmental rights defenders, as well as issues on lesbian, bisexual, queer women and transpersons.

CSOs hope the global review of women and gender human rights at Commission on the Status of Women and Generation Equality Forum in 2020 will give them “space to acknowledge and name structural and systemic barriers to gender justice, especially patriarchy and its collusion with neoliberal globalization, fundamentalisms and militarism.”

The gathering of Asia-Pacific ministers, United Nations officials and civil society organizations in Bangkok reviewed progress in implementing a UN resolution advancing women’s rights.

The conference examined what developments have taken place and what challenges the Asia-Pacific region is still facing in complying with the Beijing Declaration and Beijing Platform of Action, considered a milestone agreement for promoting gender equality adopted in 1995.

Over 500 delegates attended the conference.