Women’s Caucus and other CSOs regroup for ACWC-CSO dialogue

by Nina Somera, APWLD

In time for the 5th Meeting of the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, national and regional civil society organizations especially those working on women and children collectively surfaced their common issues and strategies. Attended by more than 50 participants from Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, and Philippines, the two-day civil society preparatory meeting was held from 2-3 July 2012 in Jakarta, Indonesia, just before the second formal meeting between CSOs and ACWC.

“The meeting facilitated the sharing cross-cutting issues and strategies around the human rights of women and children, aimed at improving, if not developing effective regional mechanisms,” Yuyun Wahyuningrum of the Human Rights Working Group explained.

In the preparatory meeting, the CSOs discussed ACWC’s proposed declaration on violence against women (VAW) and violence against children (VAC), its work plan, as well as its processes, including the selection of the next ACWC representatives.

Declaration on VAWC

Both women and child rights groups agree that should ACWC decide to push through with the declaration, the declaration must be reflective of the different forms of VAW and VAC. As Amihan Abueva of AsiaACTs said, “The declaration must reflect the emerging forms of violence happening in cyberspace, for instance.”

The groups also noted the need for the declaration to account for the historical specificity of the term VAWC, which actually refer to violence against women and their own children. Hence it was suggested that the declaration be correctly titled distinguishing VAW and VAC.

Maureen Pagaduan of the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) likewise pointed out the need to ensure that the declaration will have broad and effective mechanisms for access to justice impacting directly the majority of poor women in the region. Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN, of which the WLB is a member previously urged ACWC to ensure due diligence and all its four aspects of prevention, protection, prosecution and reparations in addressing issues of VAW as well as VAC. [The Women’s Caucus paper on this issue can be found here: https://womenscaucusonasean.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/due-diligence-and-vaw_final.pdf ]

Work Plan

ACWC is keen in generating its own resources through corporate social responsibility. However, CSOs believe that should ACWC pursue CSR, it must limit itself to business entities with no track record of human rights violations. Moreover they urge ACWC to review the gender and environmental safeguards of international financial institutions as ACWC intends work on the impacts of climate change on women and children.

Other plans recommended for ACWC work plan include campaigns against VAW and VAC, studies on child protection systems, women’s access to land and property, and ageing, the development of standards for early childhood education and guidelines for non-gender stereotyping in textbooks, among others. Although the Philippines and Indonesia are keen to lead a high-level consultation on “the gender perspective in policies, strategies and program for migrant workers” sometime in 2013, ACWC’s work plan is generally silent on migration yet it is a key issue in the region.

We also recommended that the work plans have specific timelines as well as tasks for lead countries to undertake

New OP to the CRC and AHRD

In the CSO preparatory meeting, a learning session on the new Optional Protocol 3 on communications procedure was also organized. If the Optional Protocol is ratified by the end of 2012, individuals especially children will have access to a complaints mechanism directly under the Committee on the Rights of the Child. As of this writing, no ASEAN member state has signed this new OP. Echoing the need to harmonize national laws with international legal standards, Magdalena Sitorus, head of Ketua Indonesia Sahabat Perempuan dan Anak (SAPA Indonesia) and a member of CRC Asia asserted that,

“There is a need to have measures to ensure that the promotion and protection of women and child’s right are not annulled by the political interest of the member states.  We know that every state has their own sovereignty.”

Meanwhile the Women’s Caucus facilitated a session on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) which may be approved in November 2012, despite the AICHR’s limited consultation with CSOs and the absence of a draft that is available for public comment. The session resulted in calls for ACWC to engage the AHRD process, support the integration of women’s human rights including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as well as the deletion of “public morality” as a limitation of human rights.

Lingering issues

Since the last CSO preparatory meetings, CSOs continue to point out the need for ACWC to have its own secretariat and funds that will allow the commission to work more effectively. The current situation has somehow contributed to ACWC’s less ambitious work plan, that has fund-raising as its key activity.

More importantly, CSOs reiterated the need to further open the doors for civil society participation. In the ACWC-CSO formal meetings, the CSOs were chosen by the ACWC representatives themselves. As Maureen Pagaduan says, “There must be transparency for participation beginning at the local level. No representation means no accountability.” CSOs recommended that in the next formal meetings, CSOs must be able to choose their own representatives based on their own criteria to preserve their independence and accountability to their constituencies.

[The recommendations of CSOs who participated in this meeting can be found here: https://womenscaucusonasean.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/cso-recommendations-to-acwc-july-2012/]

The civil society preparatory meeting was organized by the Human Rights Working Group, KKSP (the Education and Information Center for Child Rights), Kalyanamitra, Child Rights Colaition Asia and the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN.

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