CSOs make some inroads on VAW & VAC with ACWC

by Wint Thiri Aung, APWLD. Photo by Joko Sulistiyo, Kalyanamitra (Indonesia)

On its 5th meeting, the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) opened a session for both regional and national civil society organisations (CSOs). Co-organised by APWLD and the ASEAN Secretariat, with the support of UN Women and the Canadian International Development Agency, it was attended by 36 CSOs from all ASEAN member states.The session had as its key agenda the ACWC’s draft declaration on violence against women (VAW) and violence against children (VAC) and work plan.

Upon registration, the CSOs were given copies of the draft declaration, which ACWC calls the “zero draft”, including notes not yet integrated into the draft. The CSOs also received the tentative work plan which gave an overview of the tasks discussed prior to the open session.

“This is the first time that ACWC provided CSOs with a draft declaration before it is submitted to the relevant governments for review,” remarked Rena Herdiyani of Kalyanamitra, a women’s organisation in Indonesia. Said Ong Poai Hong of Childline Malaysia, “We welcome this gesture as a step forward to strengthen the dialogue between CSO and ACWC.”

However, despite the increased opportunity for dialogue, the open session with CSO was cut short, from four hours to two hours. “There needs to be greater transparency. It was quite disappointing when the time for our session was reduced. Somehow it smacks of tokenism,” said Hong.

Zero Draft of “Declaration on Violence against Women and Children”

There were initial questions over the proposed declaration since there are existing ASEAN declarations which cover women and children.  ACWC representative of the Philippines, Aurora Javate-De Dios explained that “the declaration is meant to add value to the previous declaration,” referring to the Ha Noi Declaration on the Enhancement of Welfare and Development of ASEAN Women and Children. She pointed out that the previous declaration was created by the ASEAN Committee of Women, a different commission from the ACWC.

Meanwhile, Rita Serena Kolibonso, ACWC representative of Indonesia, remarked that the proposed declaration aims to have clearer provisions on VAC, “It is time to address the gaps from the previous declarations, which are weak on VAC.”

Nonetheless, the CSOs asked ACWC for an assessment of previous declarations, to take into account the historical specificity of “VAWC” which is understood as violence against women and their children. Hence they suggested that the terms VAW and VAC be used, instead of VAWC. The drafting of the declaration is being led by Indonesia and Singapore.

After pointing out the need for the draft to reflect all the four areas of due diligence- APWLD asked whether the next step for the declaration is a convention on VAW. In a paper that was jointly submitted by APWLD, the International Women’s Action Rights Watch-Asia Pacific and the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN, ACWC was urged to consider the Americas’ own convention on VAW, known as Convention of Belem do Para. Dr. Noorul Ainur Mohd. Nur, Malaysia’s ACWC representative responded that “the next step for the declaration is regional standard-setting.”

CSOs also raised their concerns over the phrase “balance of rights and responsibilities” in the zero draft’s preamble. Alicia R. Bala, ACWC representative of the Philippines, said that this phrase came from ACWC’s Terms of Reference (TOR). She affirmed though that the primary duty bearers in promoting and protecting the rights of women and children are the states.

ACWC Work Plan

CSOs also provided its inputs on ACWC’s 2012-2016 Work Plan. Prior to ACWC’s dialogue with CSO, ACWC managed to discuss 12 tasks which includes setting performance standards on service delivery for children with disabilities; cultural and religious practices which impact the rights of children; women’s economic rights particularly on land and property; formation of a network of social service agencies; and public campaigns on VAW.

However, it also appears that ACWC is not yet ready to focus on the issue of migration, citing that they would like to minimise redundancy within ASEAN. Among the bodies leading the discussion on migration is the ASEAN Committee on Migrant Workers, which is also leading the drafting of the human rights instrument.
“As advocate of women’s rights, ACWC is expected by CSOs to prioritise ‘protecting migrant women in the context of VAW’ in its work plan. Migrant women workers often face violence, discrimination and repressive policy—and in some cases, women are deported if they get pregnant,” asserted Usa Lerdsrisuntad of the Foundation for Women.

AHRD and OP3

Although the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) was not part of the agenda, the CSOs made some recommendations. They urged ACWC to engage the drafting process towards the integration of the basic human rights principles of non-discrimination, substantive equality and meaningful participation of women and children; VAW and VAC in all spheres, including cyberspace; sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI); migration and children on the move; citizenship; and right to development.

Echoing the call of women’s groups, the CSOs asked ACWC to support the deletion of “public morality” as a ground for the limitation of rights.

Meanwhile, child rights advocates urged ACWC to convince the ASEAN member states to ratify the new Optional Protocol 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on communication procedures. OP3 sets up a mechanism that allows children to directly complain to the Committee of the Rights of the Child.

The results of the meeting were some positive commitments made by ACWC:

  • Acknowledgement of all forms of VAW and VAC, including VAW and VAC happening on the internet/cyberspace, in situations of armed conflict and in relation to sexual and reproductive health and rights;
  • Recognition of the need to use the terminologies VAW and VAC given their specific contexts, instead of VAWC which also has its own context;• Agreement to use both “victims” and “survivors” in referring to women and children who have experienced VAW and VAC respectively;
  • Recognition of the need to approach VAW and VAC as part of a life-cycle;
  • Decision to campaign for VAW and VAC sometimes in August on ASEAN Day;
  • Affirmation that the states are the primary duty-bearers;
  • Acknowledgement of the need to place emphasis on due diligence;
  • Support for not to use “public morality” as a ground for the limitation of rights;
  • Agreement to strengthen its meaningful engagement and collaboration with CSOs.

The ACWC will have a special meeting in December in Bangkok, Thailand to further discuss on the thematic areas of its work-plan, which could also provide another opportunity for CSOs engagement.

APWLD saw ACWC’s commitments, especially on its affirmation to emphasise due diligence in its declaration on VAW and VAC, as an important step to advance women’s human rights in the region. Overall, the Dialogue has provided an opportunity to CSOs to band their voices together to demand that women’s human rights are fully covered in any future instruments. Upon the conclusion of the session, CSOs reiterated their hope for the next step of ACWC in the region to further engage with CSOs by providing space to be part of building human rights instruments for ASEAN and to involve them as resource and partner in human rights standard setting in the region.

4 July 2012, Jakarta, Indonesia 

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