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Women Celebrate ASEAN’s Progress on International Women’s Day

Chiang Mai, Thailand - On the 99th anniversary of International Women’s Day, APWLD urges the international community to become involved in what has the potential to be Southeast Asia’s most powerful tool for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights. This April at the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) will be established.  With the establishment in October 2009 of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) these two bodies represent significant progress in what was previously purely a body for governing economic and political relationships.

The United Nations has declared this year’s International Women’s Day theme to be “Equal Opportunities, Equal Rights; Progress for All”.  APWLD is hopeful that with the real participation of civil society in consultations with ASEAN’s processes that ‘progress for all’ will be a result of the new commissions. Currently, national governments are in the process of selecting representatives for the ACWC. 

While APWLD is encouraged by progress to date, we know that continued pressure for the meaningful participation and representation of women needs to be emphasized.  We encourage all member states of ASEAN to live up to their commitment, in line with article 1 of the ASEAN Charter, to promote a ‘people-oriented’ ASEAN and ensure a transparent and inclusive consultation process to nominate and select the ACWC representatives.  Wanee Bangprapha of the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus of ASEAN is adamant that only through inclusion will the ACWC be effective, “by allowing civil society to participate in the nomination and selection of experts, ASEAN can signal to the world that it is a credible body that can deliver on its human rights agenda”. Speaking from Thailand, Ms. Bangprapha expressed that “this is an important step towards a truly ‘people-centered ASEAN."

The Southeast Asian region has a window of opportunity to ensure national governments meet their international human rights obligations. In many cases, violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms continue with impunity. An overarching structure is desperately needed to hold governments accountable. Cheery Zahau of the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN articulates such need in her home country of Burma; “With an oppressive constitution and charade elections, we have now turned to regional mechanisms; we are hopeful that the ACWC will discharge its mandate to secure our most basic human rights.”

March 8th is a time to celebrate women.  It is a time to tell your national government and ASEAN that you want to hear women’s voices heard and listened to in April in Hanoi.  It is far past the time to take action on women’s human rights abuses in Southeast Asia.