Critical issues for Asia Pacific women missing from “The Future We Want”

Published by Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development

Rio de Janeiro (June 21, 2012): Women from Asia Pacific demand governments address critical issues on women’s human rights missing in the Rio+20 negotiations for sustainable development. Employment and economic rights, militarisation, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and women’s role in climate change significantly impact women across the region, yet are being ignored. Asia Pacific women call for States to ensure the promotion, protection and realisation of women’s human rights in the outcome document.

Our six women’s rights organisations represent rural, indigenous and migrant women across Asia Pacific and we see serious gaps in the current draft of the outcome document.

Employment and economic rights: The economic growth model, which will continue in the “green economy”, depends on gendered and international division of labour exploiting informal cheap labour mostly performed by women in the global south. Under-recognition of domestic work reflects exploitative conditions and rampant abuse of domestic workers. This includes women migrant domestic workers, who are often from marginalised communities and vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, abuse and violence. Dismissal of their substantial contribution to economic development is a serious loss in women’s human capacity which could contribute to sustainable development and to eradicating poverty. We demand that all States legally recognise domestic work as work and ensure that women workers, including migrant workers regardless of their legal status, are ensured equal access to education, skills, healthcare, social security, fundamental rights at work, and social and legal protections, including occupational safety and health. States should address the root causes of women’s migration and the conditions necessary for sustainable development with safe and protected jobs for women, including alternatives to migration. This involves enacting and enforcing laws, procedures and redress mechanisms that prevent exploitation and abuse of women migrant workers. States, in fulfilling their extra territorial obligations must review bilateral agreements that contribute to discrimination and violations of the rights of women migrant workers and ensure States fulfill human rights obligations not only within, but also outside their territories.

Militarisation/peace: Militarisation, often a justification for peace and development, only deepens injustice by suppressing the voices of people and denying people’s access to resources. Opening up of new agricultural lands or construction of roads to connect commodity supply with demand most often fragments habitat, and in addition leads to land conflicts and increase use of militarization resulting to violence and displacement, of which women are most adversely affected. Natural resource extractions have often involved forced and violent responses by the military and private security hired by companies, to communities and individuals who claim their legitimate right to resources. Women human rights defenders combating the negative impact of the extractive activities are often the target of harassment, sexual abuse and even murder by these forces. Conflict over natural resources often forces women to migrate or become displaced, becoming vulnerable to violations without basic human rights protections, especially rural and indigenous women. A militaristic approach to “development, which denies the human rights of women and peoples, shall never result in sustainable development. We call on States to monitor and stop the use of state military, paramilitary and private armed groups, including foreign military interventions, in protecting development projects, which are primarily funded by international funding institutions.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights: The full realisation of sustainable development can only be realised when the states accept the importance of women’s right to health and inter alia protect and promote women’s fundamental human right to nutritional well-being throughout their life span by means of a food supply that is safe, nutritious and adapted to local conditions as well as recognise the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. In addressing the inter-relatedness of rights, it is essential that the Rio+20 outcome document recognise and adopt recommendations for States to ensure timely access to the range of family planning, in particular, and to sexual and reproductive health and rights in general. Particular attention should be paid to the health education of adolescents, including information and counseling on all methods of family planning.

The environment and climate change: Women’s role in climate change is often limited to defining their role as protectors of the environment, and less as agents of change. This perception often blocks their right to participate in climate change related policies, and in natural resources management. Climate change programmes and projects, including international mechanisms to protect areas from deforestation and enhance biodiversity, should be carefully considered. States should ensure effective forest protection policies which require governments to resolve the global economic and trade pressures that cause deforestation. The rights of indigenous and rural communities are not adequately addressed by the supposed “safeguards” currently in place. We call on States to eliminate laws, policies and practices which instrumentalise women as mere protectors of the environment. There should be a commitment to ensure women as active decision-makers in disaster and natural resources management policy and programme development.

In ensuring the adoption ofa human rights centred approach the principles of non-discrimination, substantive equality, and the recognition of the inter-relatedness of rights must be maintained, along with recognition of the principles of non-retrogression. States should ensure equal opportunity, access and benefits, and address the impact of historical and structural discrimination against women. This must include temporary special measures and the increase of women’s participation to accelerate gender equality.

In order to ensure accountability and transparency, all States are obliged to provide mechanisms through which people can hold the State and private actors accountable, participate constructively in decision and policy-making, and access information required to do so.

Asia Pacific women demand that these key issues be addressed by States before the adoption of the outcome document of the Rio+20. The women of Asia Pacific remain committed in engaging on sustainable development in all its future measures, processes and structures, especially in the course of establishing, supporting and monitoring the implementation of the sustainable development outcomes and goals in the region.

AMIHAN – National Peasant Women’s Network, Philippines; Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; Asian Rural Women’s Coalition; International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific;

Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand; Solidaritas Perempuan, Indoneisa

Posted in Non classé | 15 Comments

A Missed Opportunity

by Ashish Kothari.

In August 2010, the UN Secretary General set up a ‘High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability’, to formulate a “new vision for sustainable growth and prosperity” for the world (‘Beyond the Benchmarks, Hindustan Times, 14.10.2010). Co-chaired by the Presidents of Finland and South Africa, the panel submitted its detailed report in January 2012. The report is under consideration in the Secretary General’s office, and will be a key input to the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (the so-called ‘Rio+20’ event coming up in June in Rio, Brazil).

How ‘new’ is the Panel’s new vision, and how much does it break away from the current model of development that is clearly leading humanity towards massive ecological, social, and economic breakdown?

The Secretary General gave the Panel a very broad mandate; it had the opportunity to redefine notions of human well-being, progress, and development. The Panel comprised mostly of heads of state and ministers, or former ministers, with the odd scientist (connected to government) thrown in.

And so we have a report that goes a certain distance in critiquing the current pathways of development, and recommending measures to ‘green’ them, but stopping well short of the fundamental rethinking that is so desperately needed. In this sense it fits well into the current negotiations towards what governments will come out with at Rio+20; a push for a ‘green economy’, and for increasing reliance on market mechanisms to solve environmental and developmental problems.

The Panel report has many positive elements. It admits that the “current global developmental model is unsustainable”, notes the growing inequalities between the poor and the rich, and minces no words when it states such failures are a result of lack of political will. As part of its recommendations, it repeatedly stresses women’s and youth empowerment, which is most welcome. It urges full respect for human rights, a move towards green and dignified jobs, universal education access, integrated governmental planning, regular reporting on sustainable development using multiple indicators, combining food, water and energy for sustainable agriculture, the spread of relevant technologies, the greening of finance, doing away with environmentally destructive subsidies (like India’s for chemical fertilizers) and a close interface between science and policy. It stresses that governments must fulfill their responsibilities in all this, while seeking ‘stakeholder’ participation.

So far, so good, but unfortunately, simply not enough. While it talks about the need for democratic governance, it does not stress that this should mean devolution of powers to each local settlement, to decide on their issues. It does not advocate even partial delinking of the local from the global, though it is now widely known that communities are increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of national and global markets and politics, and though it is also widely known that they can, at least for many of their basic needs, be self-reliant. It does not explicitly challenge the obscene power of the private corporate sector, nor even demand that this sector be strictly regulated; rather, it talks of involving businesses more in a voluntary way. As if the corporations ripping off the planet are suddenly going to become moist-eyed on reading this report and suddenly become ecological heroes. Concomitant with this, the report gives a great deal of space to financial and market solutions to the multiple crises, even though again, there is so much accumulated evidence that these often don’t work, and certainly don’t work to empower the poor.

Here’s an interesting set of statistics. The term ‘private sector’ appears over 50 times in the report; add to this the word ‘businesses’ and ‘corporations’, and it crosses 70. The term ‘local communities’ appears only 7 times; perhaps extended to about 20 where the word ‘communities’ is used to mean the same. The term ‘indigenous people’ appears only once, that too to simply point to their continued marginalization; they don’t come anywhere in the recommendations. Of course, the term ‘civil society’ and ‘stakeholders’ comes several more times, but these generic terms don’t mean much, and could easily be interpreted by governments as anything.

The complete failure of the Panel to acknowledge the importance of empowering and learning from indigenous peoples (about the only people who have shown long-term sustainability in their living) is astounding. Not only this, the report does not even once mention traditional or indigenous knowledge; all its attention goes to modern science. It gets worse; it gives a list of people who were assistants to the Panel members, calling them “Sherpas”; this is an insult to a distinct indigenous people in Nepal who are proud bearers of ancient traditions of living in relative harmony with the earth, but whose name is used synonymously with ‘porters’ by insensitive mountaineers.

An unprecedented opportunity for a very high-level focus on an alternative vision of human well-being has been missed. In a way, this is not a surprise, given the composition of the Panel. No independent civil society members, no indigenous people’s or local community representatives. This is not to say that ministers are not capable of thinking out of the box; but this team did not quite manage it, and the governments where there is some really innovative thinking happening, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Cuba, were not represented. Nor did the Panel hold widespread consultations with civil society, indigenous peoples, though it did consult with some critical thinkers and practitioners.

India’s Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh, was a member of the Panel. At a very early informal meeting when he joined it, some civil society members had given inputs on how the Panel could learn from the thousands of pathbreaking, innovative initiatives in India and elsewhere, showing that there are fundamentally different ways of achieving human well-being, while respecting the Earth. But then, when he and his government are not learning from these within India itself, its pointless to expect to expect a Panel comprising ministers who are pushing the ‘economic growth’ line in their own countries (with some honourable exceptions), to do something very different. If the UN Secretary General is serious about conceiving a vision of the future that will be truly sustainable and equitable, he needs to look elsewhere.


Posted in Non classé | 5 Comments