We join our sisters in Asia Pacific and the world in celebrating 2009 International Women’s Day! in line with the international theme: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls” despite the challenges faced by women in Asia Pacific and share our firm belief that a just world providing equal rights to men and women is possible.
The intersections of different factors such as caste, ethnicity, religion, economic and social status, sexuality, within Asia Pacific realities of militarization, globalisation, fundamentalisms and patriarchy reinforces VAW and inhibit us from enjoying the full benefits of our human rights. The situation is aggravated by the increasing State violence and impunity of human rights violators.
The push for trade liberalisation has led to economic as well as cultural dislocation particularly of rural and indigenous women in the region. The mushrooming growth of large-scale commercial extractive industries has led to the loss of land, traditional sources of livelihood, and worsened food insecurity and environmental degradation. These have contributed to the increase of cheap female labour, and a staggering increase in women’s migration. Without protective measures for them, they leave their homes vulnerable to exploitation and violence.
The recent global economic crisis left women and girls at the throes of desperation, especially with respect to the high cost of food. Further, the global crisis is resulting in vast number of women migrant workers losing their jobs forcing them to return home to their countries with no prospects of finding a livelihood. No doubt, that had been the initial reason for them seeking work abroad. In short, women have become poorer, more disadvantaged and marginalised as a direct results of economic globalisation and the global food crisis.
Religious-conservative groups use the vulnerabilities of communities to enforce extreme interpretations of cultural and religious practices, commonly expressed in forms that are violent to women and limiting women's rights. In many parts of Asia Pacific, culture, tradition and religion is used by individuals, communities and governments as a tool for condoning VAW, and justify inaction in bringing perpetrators to justice. Discriminatory and harmful cultural norms have been imposed upon women by local leaders in Aceh-Indonesia, Dalit communities in India, Muslim communities in Philippines and Malaysia, to name a few, as a means of maintaining and asserting their economic-political agenda.
Women and women’s bodies are used to assert cultural and religious interpretations and assertions of power that is detrimental to women’s well-being. These dictate women’s behavior resulting in curtailment of reproductive and sexual rights, and controlling women’s public and social roles. Sexual assault, honour killings, marital rape, forced and temporary marriages, polygamy, child marriages, bride price are some of the worst forms of violence suffered by women. Other terrible violations include virginity tests, acid burnings, female genital mutilations, foeticide, all practiced in the name of culture and religion.
There is a strong trend in Asia Pacific for States to adopt militarised responses to counter legitimate demands of human rights, freedom and democracy as seen in Burma, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Fiji, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to name a few. Women are more vulnerable to violence, especially in militarised areas.
There have been gains made in the international level such as the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court articles 7 and 8 establish rape and other forms of sexual violence as Crime against humanity and War Crimes. These were reiterated in 2008 by the UN Security Council Resolution 1820 which stresses the importance of ending impunity for such acts.
But these gains made at the international level are useless unless they are effectively implemented at the local level. We need to protect these gains. Superficial compliance to international commitments has come to mean “implementation”. A clear manifestation of this is creating national policies and mechanisms with no political will and lack of a viable budget to fully implement the programs. Yet states give huge budget allocation to the military, tourism, globalisation, and so called development projects that grab peoples’ lands, perpetuate VAW, and trade women for cheap labor.
Women human rights defenders face threats, violence, harassment and death. Impunity of perpetrators persists not only in the family and community where violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors is left unaddressed but also at the state level, when States fail to meet their obligations to ensure women enjoy their full rights and address acts of violation of women’s human rights.
Governments must ensure women’s rights are promoted, protected and fulfilled. They must recognise that violence against women come in many forms, and is a direct violation of women’s rights which is a result of intersecting forms of discrimination and patriarchy. States need to implement both systemic and service oriented strategies that will ensure women’s rights are upheld in compliance to international human rights standards and principles. Mechanisms for redress should be in place and should enable women to access justice, and guarantee the safety, relief and development of women.
On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, APWLD reiterates its determination to be a vibrant active member of the women’s movement in the struggle to work for gender justice and protection, respect and fulfillment of women’s human rights. -#-
The Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD) is a women’s human rights network with over 150 individuals and organisations members committed to enabling women in Asia Pacific region to use law as an instrument of change for the empowerment of women in their struggle for justice, peace, equality and development.