“Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments.” (para 210, p. 89, BPFA)
A number of countries in the region have failed to ratify or implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The region has also seen a backlash against civil society actors, particularly women’s human rights NGO’s, which has placed activists at risk in their own countries. There has also been a resurgence of conservative forces where women’s rights are denied in the name of culture, religion or other identity-based constructs.
Since 1995 the broader political, economic and social environment has increasingly circumscribed the positive construction and promotion of women’s human rights in the Asia Pacific region. As a result, human rights activism is increasingly being criminalised and human rights defenders are being persecuted. Women human rights defenders, because they break traditional prescriptions for women and because they are relentless in challenging undemocratic power systems, have been and still are particularly vulnerable.
Gains noted in the Beijing + 10 processes were that formal institutions had made some contributions in addressing the need to promote and protect women’s human rights. Many more countries in the Asia Pacific region had become parties to the Convention of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the cornerstone for achieving women’s rights. The Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in July 1998 provides for the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court with jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity, in both international and non-international conflicts.
However, there are still many countries in the Asia Pacific region that have not yet ratified CEDAW and a number of other countries have maintained substantive reservations to it. Governments have failed to adopt legislation giving effect to the provisions of CEDAW in domestic settings. Accountability mechanisms to ensure implementation of such legislation is absent in many cases and the Optional Protocol to CEDAW is yet to be ratified by many countries.
Actions by governments and civil society have resulted in practices which infringe on their obligations under international human rights law. Examples include trafficking for purposes of prostitution (in contravention of CEDAW) and lapses in the implementation of labour laws in export processing zones (in contravention of ILO agreements). Many women experience human rights violations as a result of the interaction of varying forms of oppression, e.g. race and gender combine to create discriminatory practices against indigenous women such as the refusal to recognise sacred women’s sites and land rights. The intersection of religion and gender is seen in discriminatory practices which restrict women’s inheritance rights.
In the Beijing + 10 regional review, it was noted that several groups of women and men whose human rights remain inadequately addressed in the BPFA. Not enough inter-linkages exist among various sections of the Platform to provide a more comprehensive understanding of and response to human rights. These include the following:
• Women with disabilities
• Indigenous women
• Migrant women including migrant women workers
• Discrimination on the basis of sexuality
• Internally displaced persons and refugees
• Marginalised women (i.e. Dalit women) minority women (i.e. religious and ethnic groups)
It was recognised that since the adoption of the BPFA the Asia Pacific region has seen a resurgence of conservative forces that increasingly deny women’s rights in the name of culture, religion or other identity-based constructs. Honor killings, abandonment and killing of girl-children and similar sex selective practices continue to occur. Discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnic identity and sexuality was recorded as becoming more widespread among those severely affected by rapid changes linked to neo-liberal policies and new security measures.
New threats to women human rights defenders rose considerable in the five years since the last review (Beijing +5). Increasing state militarisation, terrorism and neo-liberal globalization silenced many rights defenders, placed them at risk and severely impacted on their freedom of expression. Perceived tensions and lack of cohesion within the women’s movement have further weakened women’s rights.
Since 2000 rising levels of conflict has led to displacement of women and girls and increasing levels of violence, including sexual violence against women by both state and non state actors. There remained a continuing failure of the legal and justice systems to protect the rights of women. This failure to address women’s needs and women’s dependence on the state for health and security service are twin factors that marginalise and disempower women. A general lack of knowledge of human rights further impedes women’s human rights advocacy.