Beijing to Bangkok: 20 years journey of triumphs and defeats

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS
There are political, economic and cultural constructs that have marred the realisation of the promises made 20 years ago in Beijing around gender justice. The tall tree of injustice and oppression that shades gender justice and equality, has thick foliage and deep roots according to Kamala Chandrakirana of Asia Pacific Women's Alliance For Peace And Security. But there are warm, though feeble, rays of hope, thawing the ice of extraordinary barriers that women face in full enjoyment of their human rights.

The journey from Beijing to Bangkok has been strenuous as well as rewarding. So it was in the fitness of things that a plenary session at the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20, organized by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) in Bangkok celebrated women's moments of triumphs along with the failures encountered in their path for development justice.

Moments to cherish
For Vernie, an indigenous woman leader from Philippines, her key moment of triumph was the formation and strengthening of indigenous women's organizations at local and national levels; and their vibrant engagement with UN agencies and governments for legislative policy changes. The active participation of women's movements resulted in the passage of two key laws in Philippines - the anti-violence law against women and children in 2004 and the Magna Carta for Women in 2010, apart from the 2007 legislation on the rights of indigenous people. Also, the collective vigilance of indigenous women has led them to defend their land rights and resources and raise their voices against destructive development.

The governments’ proposing the correct language on diverse sexual orientations and gender identities (during the Asia Pacific Conference on Population in 2013), was like music to Noelene, a lesbian from Fiji. It was an incredible joy for women like her to hear the word ‘lesbian’ being said aloud and accepted in an official gathering.  She enjoyed another moment while sitting at the negotiating table during a conference in New York when, according to her, two warring groups-- the G-77 and the EU—came together to defend the language on gender equality.

Women movements in the Asia Pacific region have also transformed the conversations around sexual and reproductive health and rights and ensured that sexual orientation and gender identity are an integral part of them. Transforming global conversation around issues that were not even recognized as issues till a few years ago, are triumphs indeed.

For Fathima, a dalit (low caste) woman activist from India, participating in the forum and being given a space to know what the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA ) was all about, is a victory in itself. She shared some events that became her moments of triumph-- “ A group of dalit women in South India chased a high caste, drunkard, who was harassing them sexually, to his house and made him to apologise - that was a great victory for me”.

“When some 30 odd dalit women went to an officer to demand their land entitlements, he blatantly pointed to one of them and said, ‘this woman is beautiful, why do not you send her to sleep with me?’ Down but not out, the women invited him to their village promising to grant his wish. When he reached there they locked him up and thrashed him”.

Untouchable in the day but touchable at night?
These are victories for women like Fathima who are “excluded from all government schemes and face discrimination at each step. They are untouchables by day and raped at night when they suddenly become touchable. It is the caste patriarchy in India that is responsible for excluding dalit/tribal women from mainstream society. But this exclusion is making them more powerful now and they are rising collectively against centuries of atrocities perpetrated on them,” said Fathima.

For Sivananthi of the Asia Pacific Resource And Research Centre For Women (ARROW), the coming together of over 500 women from diverse communities is by itself a reaffirming moment. “We have been able to create an inclusive movement over these 20 years—sex workers, people with alternate sexualities, migrant women, indigenous women, women with disablities, and other excluded communities.”

Points to ponder
But while there is something to pep us up, there is a lot to lament too. The sellout of natural resources and massive land grabbing in indigenous territories by governments and corporations; increased militarization; and legitimizing presence of military forces in the name of defending territories are all unleashing a war of gender and sexual injustice on the indigenous and marginalized women.

Vernie lamented that the development model of governments is based on greed, monopoly and profits, and there is a lack of political will to shift to new development paradigms that genuinely address poverty, inequality and gender injustice, especially for excluded sectors. A reinforcement of the power of international financial institutions and corporations is also infringing upon women’s rights.

Another grave concern is the reluctance of countries to recognize the role of climate change in their development agenda. Noelene rightly outlined the urgency for a scale of response on climate change and environmental degradation-- “Environmental degradation is not about individual countries—it is about the whole planet earth”.

There can be no sustainable development without responding to climate change.

This is the time to be bolder, angrier and stronger on climate change issues. It is also the time for women movements to pressurize governments to turn their thinking around climate change impacts, as it is women and children who would be the worst losers.

For Fathima, governments run by high caste men do not care for the dalit and marginalized women--women who are landless and resourceless. For them BPFA or the Durban Declaration does not exist. They want dignified work, instead of multinational corporations that the government is bringing in. ‘Inclusiveness of all dalit women will be our victory’.

It is worrisome also that in India the high caste women practice a sort of caste patriarchy that prevents them from supporting the dalit women. They would rather support their men to oppress the dalit/tribal women. But dalit women are trying to bring all women’s groups together at local and national levels to unitedly fight against all forms of patriarchal injustices and religious fundamentalism.

Then again, as Noelene pointed out, there is not one set of sexuality rights on LGBT priorities, rather there are issues about their social, cultural and economic rights as well. So we have co-responsibilities with each other to move these issues forward.

Change begins with people’s movements. For cohesive action, we need to engage in dialogue, build alliances and work in solidarity with other people’s movements—migrant workers  movement, rural women’s movement, right to food movement etc. This is as much a time of pulling apart what is not working, as much it is of building up sustainable development alternatives.

Kate Lappin, Regional Coordinator of APWLD, in her inaugural speech reiterated that "There has never been a more important time for feminists to mould and shape our global village which is in crises and  at a tipping point."

And as Vernie said, "If we do not resist we die anyway. If we resist we die honourably".

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS) 
15 November 2014
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service - CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA and received her editing training in Singapore. She has earlier worked with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also co-authored and edited publications on gender justice, childhood TB, childhood pneumonia, Hepatitis C Virus and HIV, and MDR-TB. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org) 

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