Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Noeleen Heyzeris the first woman to occupy this position. She was the first Executive Director from the South to head the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). She addressed the Asia Pacific NGO Forum where hundreds of women from across the region gathered to discuss the Beijing Platform for Action 15 years on.

‘What a joy to see a room filled with old friends and so many people dedicated to make a difference in women’s lives.’

Stating that the Fourth World Conference in Beijing was seen to be one of the largest conference on women, she believes it was not just a conference on women – it was the women’s conference on the world; driven by the Asia Pacific women, seeing the world through women’s eyes and coming up with an agenda  of women’s empowerment, The Platform for Action.

Ms Heyzer discussed how because of CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), women have full citizenship rights enshrined in constitutions of countries that have ratified the convention, with laws and policies being adopted to strengthen women’s economic security and rights.  Investing in women’s leadership and participation has bought bout economic and social transformation.

In women urging the UN to recognise violence against women as a human rights violation, these issues are now being addressed on national, regional and international agendas, introducing legislation on domestic violence and establish commissions to address violence against women. But there is much to do Ms Heyzer explained.

First, women must be included in systems of oversight at every level: gender responsive accountability institutions must ensure that decision makers answer to the women who are most affected by their decisions.

Second, the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment must be included in the standards against which the actions of power holders are measured. Power holders must answer for their performance in advancing women’s rights. The standards of due diligence in holding the public trust must include gender equality as a goal of public action.

Ms Heyzer said that there  are obviously still many development, equality  and security gaps to be addressed that have to be filled in the context of the multiple threats to development and freedom; finance, climate change, disparities and the rise of extremism. ‘We therefore need to strengthen the accountability agenda and be aware of these multiple threats’ she said.

With only 5 years left before the deadline for achieving the MDGs, particularly those associated with women’s lives, there continues to be disturbing gender disparities and widespread discrimination against women and girls and the continuing violations of women’s rights with the rise of extremism in the name of culture leading to the closing of spaces for women and increased violence against them.

In concluding, Ms Heyzer said; ‘We have to fully implement the Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW as well  as  all Security Council resolutions affecting women’s lives. By coming to this meeting we have reaffirmed the women’s movement in Asia Pacific once again.  There is no turning back. Let us keep moving forward’

Asia Pacific NGO Forum, Weaving Wisdom, Confronting Crisis, Forging the Future. 22nd October 2009. Manila, Philippines

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