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International Women’s Day – Defending Rights, Ending Violence

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FORUM-ASIA celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March in solidarity with all women all over the world. In its press statement issued today, FORUM-ASIA stands up and joins all women in the world to defend, reclaim, promote and protect women’s rights as human rights, not only today but all the days of our lives.


celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March in solidarity with all
women all over the world. However, we would like to take a moment to
ask ourselves: How many women, especially in Asia, will see this day
pass without our rights being violated? How many women human rights
defenders will lose their lives defending other women and men? It is
with these questions in mind that FORUM-ASIA stands up and joins all
women in the world to defend, reclaim, to promote and protect women’s
rights as human rights, not only today, but all the days of our lives.

theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Shaping Progress”.
Since 1975, the year designated as “International Women’s Year” by the
United Nations, governments and women’s organisations around the world
have also observed the day annually by “holding large-scale events that
honour women's advancement and while diligently reminding of the
continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women's equality
is gained and maintained in all aspects of life” (Source: International Women’s Day).

year’s observance of International Women’s Day comes in the midst of
the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
which guarantees equality to all peoples. Article 2 particularly states
that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in
this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race,
colour, sex, language religion, political or other opinion, national or
social origin, property, birth or other status”.

Although all
countries in Asia have ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), only several
countries in Asia ratified its Optional Protocol: this makes it
impossible for individuals to seek further redress under the UN treaty
body after national mechanism has been exhausted.

Women Human Rights Defenders

This year, 2008, also marks the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders.1
Despite 10 years of the Declaration, more and more women human rights defenders (WHRDs) face an
added threat to their lives due to their gender. Women involved in
advocating for their rights and that of others are increasingly
becoming targets of attack because their work contradicts or is in
conflict with the prevailing norms and traditions.

Many WHRDs
are likely to spend this year’s Women’s Day in prisons: the State Peace
and Development Council of Burma has not released the women who joined
peaceful protests leading to their arrests during the violent
crackdowns which started September last year. Over a hundred women,
including nuns, have been detained since then. Burma’s Opposition
leader Aung San Su Kyi has been under house detention for 18 years.

not being detained, many WHRDs in Asia are subjected to violence. The
indigenous women in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and
other Asian countries for example, assert their right to life as land
is life to them, and are facing legal and extralegal harassment. They
also fight against mining and other corporate or state appropriation of
their lands.

Violence against women

Although CEDAW has been enforced for almost 30 years, violence against
women is still prevalent in Asia: women are subject to honour killings,
female infanticide or acid violence. For example in Bangladesh, 96
women became the victims of this acid violence last year. The victims
are generally poorer than the perpetrators, who have enough money to
bribe the police to evade arrest or make them reject the file.

Rape continues to be used as a weapon to subordinate and subjugate
women and what they represent. In Burma, the use of rape as a weapon of
war has been documented in the ruling junta’s fight against the ethnic
nationalist movements.

Political participation

participation to politics is growing, but very slowly. The share of
women in single or lower house of parliaments is below 20 percent in
Asia. UN statistics in 2007 show that in South Asia, the
representation is only 13 percent. A decisive factor is gender quota
systems but women are facing reversals of gain in this respect.

instance, the Mongolian Parliament has removed Article 28.2 of the Law
on Election of the State Great Khural (Parliament of Mongolia), which
states that “minimum 30 percent of candidates for parliamentary
elections from each political party should be women”.

Economic, social and cultural rights

progress worldwide guaranteeing the enjoyment of human rights without
discrimination on the basis of sex, we still see in Asia, economic,
social and cultural rights are not significantly enjoyed by women
because as a group, they are disproportionately affected by poverty,
and social and cultural marginalisation.

According to the UN
Millenium Development Goals Report 2007, “women’s labour is more likely
than men’s to be unpaid”. More than 60 percent of unpaid workers are
women, less likely to access to job security and social protection. The
garment and other export-oriented industries in Asian countries, mostly
under the sponsorship of governments, is fueled by the labour of women,
mostly migrants, who work under the 3 “D”s: dirty, dangerous,
degrading. They generate tremendous corporate profits while costing
their health, dignity, and life.

Health concerns

is a grave concern for women. Lack of accessible sexual and
reproductive health services, including provision of treatments, and
the denial of body integrity for women results in increased women’s
mortality, including those related to HIV/AIDS.

LBTI Rights

of their sexual preferences and choices, many LBTI (lesbian, bisexual,
transgender, and intersex) especially in Asia face the threats and
actual of violence from their family, society and authorities. They are
also excluded from working places and denied accesses to public
facilities and services, and decision-making. LBTI human rights
defenders and those involved in promoting sexual and reproductive
rights for women have become vulnerable to violence because of who they
are and the work that they do.

FORUM-ASIA’s demands on Women’s Day

believe that the economic, social and cultural rights and civil and
political rights are particularly indivisible and interconnected in the
lives of women: inequality in economic, social and cultural rights
undermines women’s ability to enjoy their civil and political rights,
leading them to limit their capacity to influence decision and
policy-making in public life. Since “all human rights are universal,
indivisible and interdependent and interrelated”,2 equality in civil and political rights3 is undermined, unless equality in the exercise and enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is secured.

Therefore, on this special day for Women, FORUM-ASIA calls:

  • respect
    for, and observance of all human rights, including the right of women
    to equal exercise and enjoyment of their political, civil, economic
    social and cultural rights;
  • on all Asian governments to
    effectively implement their obligations under CEDAW, remove
    reservations, and report timely on their implementation of CEDAW;
  • on all Asian governments to ratify the CEDAW Optional Protocol;
  • for
    civil society, for men and women human rights defenders to keep working
    hand in hand for the advancement of “Women’s rights are human rights” !

Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and
Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

2 United Nations General Assembly, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, I. 12/07/93. A/CONF.157/23 at para 5.

3 As reiterated in HRC General Comment 28, supra note 4.