Young women demand governments to fulfill promises on women rights and gender equality

Aileen Familara, CNS Columnist
Young women from civil society called on governments attending the United Nations High Level Ministerial Meeting to fulfill their promises to advance women’s rights and gender equality. The governments were gathering from 17 to 21 November to report and review the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) that came into being 20 years ago. The BPFA is a document agreed upon in 1995 for governments to develop and ensure policies on 12 critical areas: Women and Poverty, Education and Training of Women, Women and Health, Violence against Women, Women and Armed Conflict, Women and the Economy, Women in Power and Decision Making, Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women, Human Rights of Women, Women and the Media, Women and Environment, The Girl Child.

Among the young women was Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, from Indonesia, who has gained global attention and support after suffering abuse from the hands of her employer while working as a domestic worker in Hong Kong. Betty Barkha from Fiji, Sarah Soysa from Sri Lanka and Sorang Saragih from Indonesia joined her in demanding the long overdue gender equality.

Their stories highlight the gaps in implementation of BPFA since their youth, as their lifetimes span the 2 decades since the BPFA was agreed upon.

This is their testimony:

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih - Indonesia
“20 years ago, when the Beijing Platform was adopted, I was just 2 years old.  You said that women migrant workers, including domestic workers, are a critical part of the workforce and economy. You pledged to reinforce laws to punish and redress wrongs done to women and girls.

Twenty years ago, I grew up in poverty, which is globalisation's gift to our economy. Dreams gave way to harsh realities, and I migrated as a domestic worker to Hongkong. Abused at the hands of my employer, I almost lost my life. But I was lucky to have escaped. I joined a movement and I fight for the wrongs to be righted. I want you to know that: ‘Migrants have rights’; ‘Domestic work is work’; ‘Domestic workers are not slaves’; and “Exploitation ends not with words, but with real accountability!”

Sarah Soysa - Sri Lanka
“20 years ago, I was 6 and inequality was rife with women’s labour undervalued and women’s bodies violated. 20 years on, I act for a different future: Comprehensive sexuality education in schools, access to information and basic services, the end of intimate partner violence, equal rights for all women.

Join me, and we will push for a world: where rights set out on paper are realized in practice and where all of us can fully exercise our rights no matter what our identity, or its expression. Because the future I want celebrates diversity; celebrates women; celebrates girls; celebrates rights.”

Sorang Saragih - Indonesia
20 years ago, I knew nothing about women’s rights. But 20 years on, I know better about substantive gender equality, and the states obligations/duties to protect women’s rights. I also understand that culture is no excuse for discrimination and that rights are universal and indivisible. The spirit of Beijing should echo in our daily lives and manifest in our policies, our institutions, our communities.

Betty Barkha, Fiji
“20 years ago, Beijing promised an environment that promotes world peace, protects human rights, and strengthens democracy. I come from the Pacific where peace, rights, democracy, and the environment are our constant struggles. Ten years I have fought climate change. Twenty years I have lived in the midst and aftermath of two coups. I see women harassed for joining politics, and I get questioned for being an activist. But even as the challenges seem overwhelming, we  find the strength to grow. We will fight climate change and save our islands, We will advance the positions of women, We will bring up a generation of girls who will make change.”

Together we want that more than ever before, the world must reaffirm the commitment it made 20 years ago, when 189 governments announced to the world that were ‘Determined to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity.’  Twenty years since declaring gender equality a commitment and a priority, it is time to deliver. Let us move forever forward, never backward.

Aileen Familara, Citizen News Service - CNS
19 November 2014 
(Author serves as Information and Communications Officer of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD). W: