At the opening of the Asia-Pacific intergovernmental meeting to review the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA), Eni Lestari of GAATW member organisation ATKI-Hong Kong delivered a powerful statement representing civil society demands for women's rights in the region.
The statement represents the outcome document from the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing +20, which took place from 14-16 November in Bangkok, Thailand. Over three days more than 400 women's rights activists discussed the progress made and the implementation gaps and strategise for accountability on the BPfA across the region. GAATW was part of the civil society steering committee responsible for delivering this exciting programme.
Two decades after its adoption, the BPfA by consensus remains the most comprehensive and progressive global policy framework for the advancement of women's human rights and gender equality.
This event took place as part of the 20-year review of the BPfA, a process known as the Beijing+20 Review. Alongside other NGOs in the Asia-Pacific region, GAATW is advocating for women's human rights and gender equality, with a focus on government accountability.
Here is the statement delivered by Eni Lestari at the opening ceremony of the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Beijing +20 Review.
Your excellencies, delegates, UN agencies and my civil society sisters and friends
When I was born I shared hopes and dreams like many of you here. I wanted to study, to go to university, to contribute to our society, to achieve my full potential.
Two years after you signed off on the Beijing Declaration Indonesia and many of our countries faced the Asian Financial Crisis. International financial institutions forced neo-liberal policies and our governments complied. As a result my family, like so many, lost our land, our small business, our means of survival. I could no longer go to school, dream, I had to survive. I became a migrant domestic worker. My story there is like so many – forced into debt to migrate, controlled by migration agencies, forced to live with employers, unpaid wages, abuse. Yet I survived and worked with others to collectively demand domestic work be recognized as work and that we reverse the conditions that force us to migrate.
In the same year you negotiated the Beijing Platform you also launched the World Trade Organisation. You gave with one hand and took away with the other. The economic structures you have formed produced wealth for a tiny minority of obscenely wealthy people at the cost of women like me – at the cost of the women battling against forced evictions in Cambodia who were again arrested, charged and sentenced in 24 hours just last week, at the cost of Indigenous women denied their land, at the cost of women garment workers earning starvation wages, at the cost of the many women who lose their lives in childbirth denied decent public health, at the cost of women with disabilities denied health, public education and social protection, at the cost of women displaced by climate change.
This is why the Beijing Platform seems so distant to me, why I became a women's rights activist and why there is still so much to do for women of our region. Today I am representing the CSO Steering Committee who have just convened a civil society consultation involving 480 women and men from 36 countries. I thank ESCAP for the opportunity to speak at this forum and for including so many civil society representatives in this meeting. This is an historic achievement. We also thank UN Women for their support in this process.
Together we identified some key messages we want to highlight here from our larger statement. In short they are
1. The need for Accountability
2. Women's sexual rights
3. Increasing militarism, fundamentalisms and rising extremisms
4. The injustice of the current development model
FIRST - The largest barrier to implementation of the Beijing Platform is the lack of meaningful accountability mechanisms. Genuine accountability means that the least powerful amongst us are able to hold the most powerful to account for their actions. Genuine accountability means that we can hold parliamentarians, officials, corporations and the individuals within them to account for their direct and indirect violations of women's human rights. Genuine accountability requires a clear means of implementation, regular and transparent reviews at parliamentary levels. But most significantly accountability requires remedies, accountability requires reparations, accountability requires justice.
SECOND - A major component of the Beijing unfinished agenda is the full realization of women's human rights to control all aspects of their sexuality, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. In public and private spaces, women's and girl's sexual and reproductive health and rights, including their rights to bodily integrity and autonomy over their bodies and life decisions continue to be violated.
THIRD – In the past 20 years the space for civil society to advocate on behalf of women, the marginalized and the most vulnerable in our communities has shrunk, just as the willingness of governments to trade away or roll-back women's human rights has increased.
While the Beijing Platform recognised the victimisation and exclusion of women in armed conflicts, the obligations of governments to fulfil and protect women's rights in situations of militarisation and insurgency have since been recognised. This is critical when 50% of countries in South and South-east Asia are afflicted by sub-national conflict. Contrary to the Beijing Platform, governments have increased military expenditure and militarised environments where large-scale development projects occur.
FINALLY - My story reflects the injustice of the current development model. My experience compels me to demand a new development model – a model of Development Justice.
Development Justice requires governments to end the gross inequalities of wealth, power, resources and opportunities that exist between countries, between rich and poor and between men and women. Development Justice requires implementation of five 'transformative shifts' – Redistributive Justice, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Gender and Social Justice and Accountability to the Peoples.
Only then will the promise of Beijing be fulfilled.
I thank you.