Climate change, SOGI, sexual rights, and violence against women among contended issues

Governments at the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Beijing+20 Review finalized discussing the draft ministerial outcomes document that will be approved at the end of the conference by member states of the Asia-Pacific region. State delegations discussed, improved, changed, and approved language in the document related to the 12 critical areas of concern identified twenty years ago in the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). They also agreed on the measures States will take to accelerate the implementation of this platform of action. Civil society organizations have been active in lobbying governments throughout.

Under the critical areas of concern, issues around the health of women and girls generated the most discussions, while other concerns, such as training and education and women and power reached consensus without major opposition. Governments accepted additional implementation measures related to inter-governmental synergies; inclusion of gender in macroeconomic analysis; institutional reforms to increase accountability and transparency; the advancement of women and girls with disabilities in programmes and policies; and the strengthening of the role of UN Women. States also agreed to strengthen coordination with regional civil society. The declaration ended with the stand-alone development goal for gender equality.

Highlighted below are some of the main points approved by the governments related to the 12 critical areas of concern:

  • Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and sexual rights continue to be ignored in the draft declaration. In its place there are references to "men and women in their diversity." "Caste" was also scratched and replaced with "social origin".
  • Iran, who had opposed the inclusion of "feminist groups" as one of the entities to contribute to the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of women, agreed to its inclusion on the basis that they were already mentioned in the BPfA.
  • The mention to "shared parenting" was removed when affirming the role of women in the family and the language on the BPfA was retained. This language refers to the "shared responsibility of parents."
  • Governments included language on intimate partner and ICT related violence against women, and included single women as one of the specific groups of women that experience violence.
  • Governments agreed to include "access to age-appropriate, comprehensive evidence-based education for human sexuality" as a compromise for the inclusion of comprehensive sexuality education on the issue of women and health.

In the upcoming Ministerial Meeting, governments will review the progress and remaining challenges in the implementation of the BPfA and will consider the draft outcome document negotiated by the delegations.

Read below the highlights in the discussions on the 12 Critical Areas of Concern:

Women and health—Marshal Islands, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, and New Zealand were among many states that called for language related to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Indonesia, Iran, and Russia opposed; the latter on the grounds of lack of existing language on sexual rights in past UN documents. Similarly, Pakistan, Russia and Iran asked to clarify that sexual and reproductive health information should be "age-appropriate," while Japan noted the need to provide "comprehensive sexuality education."

Violence against women—Australia recognized the introduction of laws and policies to prevent violence against women against indigenous women and vulnerable women. Kiribati also proposed the inclusion of "gender based and intimate partner violence." Papua New Guinea added "beating and killing of women accused of sorcery" to the list.

Women and armed conflict—Tuvalu considered it important to include nuclear testing and climate change as situations that pose a real threat to peace and security and impact women. It reminded other States these are not separate from armed conflict. Nepal stressed the importance of the participation and involvement of women in peace and security and the need to increase the role of women in this area, while Indonesia noted the need for long-term holistic support and rehabilitation for women who experienced violence affected by conflict. ‬‬

Women and the economy—The Philippines included women workers in the informal economy as a group of women that need effective protection, including by providing these women access to loans and other services. Palau also included the protection of the members of the family of migrant workers, in line with existing migrant conventions. Fiji noted the need for freedom of association and collective bargaining for skilled and informal workers.

Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women—States agreed on the need to strengthen not only institutional mechanisms, but also evaluation strategies, as means for better accountability.

Human rights of women—Australia suggested that the document include not only reproductive rights but also sexual and reproductive rights. Russia opposed. Governments explicitly recognized the human rights of internally displaced and refugee women and girls, as proposed by Azerbaijan.

Several governments objected to any reference throughout the document to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since it has not been ratified by most United Nations (UN) member states.

Women and the media—Philippines recognized the existence of ICT violence and stated the "need for internet and mobile phone service providers to have an important responsibility in ensuring women and girls safety and privacy." States accepted Nepal's suggestion "to promote media literacy that will enable women and girls to be more engaged in how media portrays them, as well as digital literacy so that they may become active agents who can participate fully in public and private life."

Women and the environment—The Pacific Islands noted that the region is vulnerable to climate change and disasters and Mongolia recognized the "common but differentiated responsibilities of countries in addressing climate change," which was opposed by Japan. Tonga suggested the inclusion of a new paragraph on global emission of green house gases. States agreed on the need for women not only to have access, but also to control natural resources and clean and renewable energy. Iran denied a proposal to talk about the "unequal right to inherit land" by women.

Cambodia suggested and States agreed to an additional paragraph that reads: "During times of natural disasters and climate change hazards, particular attention must be given to vulnerable groups of women and girls, and especially to elderly women, women and girls with disabilities, women and girls with HIV, indigenous women and girls, and women and girls living in remote areas."

The girl child—States included the concerns over trafficking and exploitation of the girl child, the lower rates of school attendance of girls, and the need to address issues around child labor and teenage pregnancy. Once again, states were divided when discussing an additional paragraph proposed by Marshall Islands, supported by Fiji and Palau, on comprehensive youth friendly health services and education.

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