December 2nd, 2011

Can we still trust ASEAN?

The following is a press statement issued by the South-east Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN, a network of women’s organisations from 11 countries which aims to engage ASEAN in advancing women’s human rights in the region.

Despite the hype surrounding the ASEAN Summit in Bali, women from the region found no signs in ASEAN towards advancing women’s human rights and gender equality. Instead they alarmed with the body’s support for the 2014 chairship of Burma, where cases of women’s human rights violations are mounting, among others. Moreover there are qualms over the civil society space in Cambodia when it starts the chairship next year.

“Although Indonesia has been quite open to civil society, this is not a nice touch as Indonesia ends its term and passes the baton to the next chair,” Rena Herdiyani of Kalyanamitra, a member of the South East Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN (Women’s Caucus) put it.

“The Burmese Army’s widespread attacks against ethnic civilian communities, especially against women, is an egregious violation of international law and blatantly shows the lack of the rule of law in Burma. We know that you understand the security of women is not a minor issue, but a major problem that has to be addressed before a nation can progress,” the Women’s League of Burma said. The organisation documented 81 cases of rape this year alone.

The ASEAN Summit ended just days before the 16 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women international campaign.

With this development, the Women’s Caucus is watchful of the drafting of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). “Women’s human rights must never be a point of negotiations. ASEAN must acknowledge what we are born with, as affirmed by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other international human rights instruments.” Herdiyani added.

Last month, the Women’s Caucus formally submitted its input to the AHRD, reiterating human rights such as equality and non-discrimination, freedom from violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, equal rights in marriage and family life, decent work in local and overseas employment and citizenship especially for refugees and women on the move, among many others.

As the AHRD will be deliberated and adopted under Cambodia’s chairship, the Women’s Caucus call for an open and safe space for civil society next year. “We are not just feminists and activists but we are stakeholders of ASEAN, we have to critically engage with the process, especially as ASEAN is increasingly become a part of our daily lives. There is no way we could do this if ASEAN only wants to hear good things,” Kunthea Chan of Cambodian women’s organisation, Silaka asserted.

Find out more about the Women’s Caucus here.

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