A summary of the regional review of progress implementing BPfA

The Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20, supported by UN Women, begins tomorrow November 14, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Women activists from across the Asia and Pacific region will discuss what their governments have done or not to achieve gender equality and women and girls empowerment in the past 20 years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA).

States reported the progress and remaining challenges on the 12 critical areas of concern to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP)—the entity charged with monitoring the implementation of the BPfA across the Asia and Pacific region. According to UNESCAP, Cambodia, Indonesia, North Korea, Lao, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam did not take part in the review process. They did not answer the Regional Survey nor did they present a National Review Report. Eighteen countries responded to both the survey and presented a report and 16 others did one or the other. Click here to see which countries responded to UNESCAP's Regional Survey and/or presented a National Review Report.

Despite the lack of response by some states, the majority of Member States identified their progress and highlighted the following priority areas for action to advance achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Asia and the Pacific:

  • Women’s engagement in public and political life

  • Women’s economic empowerment

  • Elimination of violence against women (VAW)

States determined these areas for action based on their achievements and challenges reported on each of the 12 areas of concern, as seen below.

Achievements, Progress, and Challenges: What Asia-Pacific governments reported

States reported gains in gender parity in education among primary enrolment, but recognized disparities in the quality of education and girls access to secondary and tertiary education. They also mentioned concerns related to “subject streaming”—the wholesale allocation of children to groups on the basis of a fixed, single ability label—and to the early termination of education for girls due to sociocultural norms.

States also reported gains in policies and legislation to address the specific health needs of women. They identified persistent challenges related to implementation and a lack of resources and of specialized services for women. According to the UNESCAP report maternal health was the only area specifically highlighted by States as a concern on issues around women and health.

Despite the existence of legislation and policies to address violence against women (VAW) in most Asia-Pacific countries, States reported challenges in their implementation. The “dearth of data and service provision to inhospitable judicial systems and discriminatory sociocultural norms” were reported by States as barriers to eliminate VAW.

The women, peace, and security agenda in the region also presented outcomes and challenges. UNESCAP reported that 13 out of the 40 reporting States had a national action plan on this issue, yet only 6 of them were publicly available. States have created education and training initiatives to raise awareness on this issue, but there is still a lack of policies in place to protect women and girls from violence during armed conflict.

States noted an increase in gender-responsive social protection and employment and livelihood schemes to address women living in poverty and reported a number of actions to advance women’s engagement in the economy through entrepreneurship. However, they recognized that inequalities prevail between men and women in the area of employment with the existing gender gap and occupational segregation—the distribution of people based on gender across and within occupations and jobs.

States also highlighted the existence of constitutional and legislative provisions to increase the participation of women in the public domain and achieve equality between women and men to stand for election, including the creation of quota systems. However, they cited the need to revise sociocultural values and beliefs and enhanced capacity as requirements to achieve equitable representation of women in decision-making spaces.

The report recognized that there is a “significant regional variability” in relation to the participation and portrayal of women and girls in the media and focused mostly on the measure of women’s engagement with the media by outlining the proportion of women journalists in the region. States also reported having initiatives to promote a balanced and non-stereotypical portrayal of women and girls in the media.

Additionally, States noted that they aimed at mainstreaming gender in their policies, plans and programs on issues related to women and the environment, on issues related to natural resources, climate change, and disaster risk reduction. The report did not mention specific challenges faced by States in this area of concern.

Finally, States reported having “various child-focused (but not girl-specific) national policy measures” to address concerns around the girl child. The report stated that normative measures, as well as awareness-raising and public campaigns are more common than programme and service initiatives on this issue.

What is missing?

Political Will and Accountability—Although a number of institutional mechanisms exist throughout countries in the region with the mandate to realize gender equality and empower women, States reported lack of political will and accountability, limited awareness and appreciation for gender, insufficient resources and poor coordination as some of the obstacles for those mechanisms to fulfill their mandates.

Human Rights Commitments—Iran, Palau, and Tonga have not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations against Women (CEDAW). 18 States in the region have applied reservations to their ratification. Countries need to ratify CEDAW and eliminate their reservations as a firs step towards women and girls exercising their human rights and accessing justice. Women and girls are also in need of continued legal literacy in order to access justice systems.

Intersectional Approach—States continue to create programmes and report on women and girls without considering the diversity, including from the vantage points of race, class, ability, age, and sexual orientation and gender identity. For instance, the only mention of an intersectional approach within the UNESCAP report was the inclusion of disability in the context of VAW.

Stronger Partnerships—There is a need to enhance collaboration among government entities and between governments through coordination mechanisms and through the participation of women and women’s organizations at the local, national, and regional level.

Resources—Member States noted that government funding for gender equality is insufficient to achieve the strategic objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action. According to the UNESCAP report, 15 of the 17 member States that provided funding information allocate allocated less than 1 per cent of the national budget to the national women’s machineries, despite their substantial mandates.

Women and Development—the reports by states to UNESCAP do not mention what might happen to the critical areas of concerns in the context of the post-2015 development framework. There is a need to continue to advocate for the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s rights, and women’s empowerment across all goals.

What will happen next?

The Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing+20 Review will take place November 17-20. At this meeting, UNESCAP member states will adopt the regional input that will feed into the global review process dialogue to be held in 2015 at the 59th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).

Civil Society Organisations had the opportunity to include their comments into the review process in the meeting that took place in August 2014 and will be able to continue their advocacy during the governments’ review with limited participation.

Media contact:
Jasmin Qureshi
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