Text by Nina Somera, APWLD, Photo by Souknida Yongchialorsautouky, Gender and Development Association (Laos)
This is a promise several civil society organizations (CSOs), including the Women’s Caucus will hold on to in the years to come, following the first formal dialogue between CSOs and the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) last 18 January 2012 in Manila, Philippines.
The dialogue was preceded by a closed consultation on violence against women and violence against children facilitated by Marta Santos Pais, the Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary General on VAC, Indira Jaising, UN CEDAW Committee expert, and Dr. Lara Fergus, Expert Advisor on Un Women’s Service Delivery for the Ending VAW. Supported by UN Women and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the consultation aimed “to put ACWC members on the same page on VAW and VAC,” as ACWC Thai Representative on Children’s Rights Saisuree Chutickul explained.
The Women’s Caucus together with the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) submitted a paper on due diligence, an area that has yet to be addressed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its emerging human rights regime but is necessary if ASEAN is to respond to the multiple forms of VAW.
Although there have been some progress in addressing VAW in the region through national laws, women’s machineries and gender desks and even education, VAW even in its more obvious forms such as marital rape and stoning still exists. Among the more common forms of VAW across the region include domestic violence, sexual harassment, VAW in the context of migration, trafficking and VAW in situations of armed conflict.
During the ACWC-CSO dialogue, the Women’s Caucus articulated the need for ACWC to have specific terms of reference for more comprehensive and focused inquiries. As Kate Lappin pointed out, “ACWC must interpret its mandate more broadly and boldly to include inquiries.” These inquiries can be the means for ACWC to assist ASEAN member states comply with their commitments to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
This was also pointed out by Philippine Commission on Human Rights chief Loretta Ann Rosales, who also sits in the South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum: “ACWC does not seem to have the power of monitoring via regular reporting process. How in heaven’s name are we going to know the situation on the ground?” The mandate of ACWC includes assisting ASEAN member states in preparing for CEDAW and CRC periodic reports and implementing the recommendations of the CEDAW and CRC Committees.
ACWC was also urged to tap women and gender experts the region for its work, including consultations on VAW. As Wathshlah Naidu said, “This region is rich in women who have extensive expertise on these issues and who are certainly more familiar with the context of the region.” Thida Khus similarly suggested the “mapping of expertise and development of a capacity index of civil society organizations.”
For its part, ACWC through Philippine Representative Aurora Javate De Dios said, “We hope to continue this dialogue and nurture our important partnership with civil society. We will maintain this open policy.”