Whatever happened five years after Beijing + 10?
By Bianca Miglioretto, Isis International

Ten experts from the Asia-Pacific region assessed the past five years since Beijing + 10, which seem to have lost its place on a horizon of policy priorities, during a recent Experts Meeting at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. Representatives of non-government organisations, academe and the United Nations agreed that Beijing + 10 has been left behind with the attention that has been given to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the UN Aid Effectiveness. While the latter are equally important, it cannot be denied the dent such shift has made on women’s movements.

In the end, the transformative agenda and the human rights discourse of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) have been displaced by service delivery and economic effectiveness approaches. This trend has manifested itself in the substantial funding reduction for women’s movements as well as the diminution of BPFA as a benchmark in progress reports especially a decade after the 1995 World Conference on Women which yielded BPFA.

This trend is alarming especially in the Asia Pacific region which is projected to have an increasing aging population and the brunt of environmental degradation and climate change, on top of the ongoing economic crisis.

According to UN projections, the ratio of elderly people will double by 2030 in South East Asia. In some countries such as Indonesia, a higher ratio of older people is found in the cities rather than in rural areas.

Because of the traditional preference for sons, India and China are expected to have higher male population, that in a few decades, these countries will problematise the welfare of these men in their old age.

Domestic and international migration of younger population are also expected to have older people left alone. In all countries except Brunei, older women outnumber men of their age group by ten to 40 per cent. Fifty per cent of older women are also dependent on their children, compared with 25 per cent of men yet older women still tend to have more responsibilities than older men. Men are also more likely to receive pensions and access income opportunities than their counterparts.

Older women tend to face greater vulnerabilities to poverty, deprivation and exclusion as well as poor health,” remarked Evi Nurvidya Arifin of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

The Asia Pacific region is also witnessing of the vulnerabilities of women in the face of climate change, which has led to water scarcity and food insecurity, among others. Given their roles as managers, women bear more pressure to provide for the family yet their access to already scarce resources are further complicated by the intersectionality of their gender with caste, class, age, ethnicity and other social categories. Natural resource management is also dominated by men, with limited women’s participation. Global networks working on climate change is likewise male- dominated. In addition, the lack of sex segregated data has worked against surfacing and addressing women’s concerns and needs.

One response to climate change is adaptation or the capacity of social actors to shift livelihood strategies and develop support systems that are resilient enough to assist vulnerable people to respond to climate change. In several places successful adaptation projects have been piloted such as the lobster fattening farms in rice fields affected by salinity intrusion because of rising sea-level. “There is a need to engender adaptation and budgets for adaptation, recognising women’s ‘burden’ of unpaid work. We need to look at gender justices as climate justice from a broader human rights perspective, in compliance with CEDAW, BPFA and other UN gender rights commitments.” explained Sara Ahmend, Chair of the Gender and Water Alliance.

The economic crisis is also hitting women the hardest. Women still constitute the majority of casual labourers, who are the first to lose their jobs and are outside social protection coverage. High suicide and crime rates, along with incidents of violence against women (VAW) are on the rise. Although governments have introduced stimulus packages, the latter benefit men more than women. “Large public infrastructures and public work projects are common features in all stimulus packages. However these jobs are mostly in construction where 80 to 90 per cent of jobs are held by men,” reminded Shamika Sirimanne of UN ESCAP. Greater resources must be allotted to social spending and agriculture, where most poor women are concentrated.

The Experts’ Meeting was organised by the Social Development Commission of the UN ESCAP in May 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting was one of the preparatory activities of the High Level Intergovernmental Meeting on the review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) that is scheduled to take place in November 2009 as ESCAP in Bangkok, Thailand.