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Critical issues for Asia Pacific women missing from “The Future We Want”

Rio de Janeiro (June 21, 2012): Women from Asia Pacific demand governments address critical issues on women’s human rights missing in the Rio+20 negotiations for sustainable development. Employment and economic rights, militarisation, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and women’s role in climate change significantly impact women across the region, yet are being ignored. Asia Pacific women call for States to ensure the promotion, protection and realisation of women’s human rights in the outcome document.

Our six women’s rights organisations represent rural, indigenous and migrant women across Asia Pacific and we see serious gaps in the current draft of the outcome document.

Employment and economic rights: The economic growth model, which will continue in the “green economy”, depends on gendered and international division of labour exploiting informal cheap labour mostly performed by women in the global south. Under-recognition of domestic work reflects exploitative conditions and rampant abuse of domestic workers. This includes women migrant domestic workers, who are often from marginalised communities and vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, abuse and violence. Dismissal of their substantial contribution to economic development is a serious loss in women’s human capacity which could contribute to sustainable development and to eradicating poverty. We demand that all States legally recognise domestic work as work and ensure that women workers, including migrant workers regardless of their legal status, are ensured equal access to education, skills, healthcare, social security, fundamental rights at work, and social and legal protections, including occupational safety and health. States should address the root causes of women’s migration and the conditions necessary for sustainable development with safe and protected jobs for women, including alternatives to migration. This involves enacting and enforcing laws, procedures and redress mechanisms that prevent exploitation and abuse of women migrant workers. States, in fulfilling their extra territorial obligations must review bilateral agreements that contribute to discrimination and violations of the rights of women migrant workers and ensure States fulfill human rights obligations not only within, but also outside their territories.

Militarisation/peace: Militarisation, often a justification for peace and development, only deepens injustice by suppressing the voices of people and denying people’s access to resources. Opening up of new agricultural lands or construction of roads to connect commodity supply with demand most often fragments habitat, and in addition leads to land conflicts and increase use of militarization resulting to violence and displacement, of which women are most adversely affected. Natural resource extractions have often involved forced and violent responses by the military and private security hired by companies, to communities and individuals who claim their legitimate right to resources. Women human rights defenders combating the negative impact of the extractive activities are often the target of harassment, sexual abuse and even murder by these forces. Conflict over natural resources often forces women to migrate or become displaced, becoming vulnerable to violations without basic human rights protections, especially rural and indigenous women. A militaristic approach to “development, which denies the human rights of women and peoples, shall never result in sustainable development. We call on States to monitor and stop the use of state military, paramilitary and private armed groups, including foreign military interventions, in protecting development projects, which are primarily funded by international funding institutions.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights: The full realisation of sustainable development can only be realised when the states accept the importance of women’s right to health and inter alia protect and promote women’s fundamental human right to nutritional well-being throughout their life span by means of a food supply that is safe, nutritious and adapted to local conditions as well as recognise the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. In addressing the inter-relatedness of rights, it is essential that the Rio+20 outcome document recognise and adopt recommendations for States to ensure timely access to the range of family planning, in particular, and to sexual and reproductive health and rights in general. Particular attention should be paid to the health education of adolescents, including information and counseling on all methods of family planning.

The environment and climate change: Women’s role in climate change is often limited to defining their role as protectors of the environment, and less as agents of change. This perception often blocks their right to participate in climate change related policies, and in natural resources management. Climate change programmes and projects, including international mechanisms to protect areas from deforestation and enhance biodiversity, should be carefully considered. States should ensure effective forest protection policies which require governments to resolve the global economic and trade pressures that cause deforestation. The rights of indigenous and rural communities are not adequately addressed by the supposed “safeguards” currently in place. We call on States to eliminate laws, policies and practices which instrumentalise women as mere protectors of the environment. There should be a commitment to ensure women as active decision-makers in disaster and natural resources management policy and programme development.

In ensuring the adoption ofa human rights centred approach the principles of non-discrimination, substantive equality, and the recognition of the inter-relatedness of rights must be maintained, along with recognition of the principles of non-retrogression. States should ensure equal opportunity, access and benefits, and address the impact of historical and structural discrimination against women. This must include temporary special measures and the increase of women’s participation to accelerate gender equality.

In order to ensure accountability and transparency, all States are obliged to provide mechanisms through which people can hold the State and private actors accountable, participate constructively in decision and policy-making, and access information required to do so.

Asia Pacific women demand that these key issues be addressed by States before the adoption of the outcome document of the Rio+20. The women of Asia Pacific remain committed in engaging on sustainable development in all its future measures, processes and structures, especially in the course of establishing, supporting and monitoring the implementation of the sustainable development outcomes and goals in the region.


AMIHAN – National Peasant Women’s Network, Philippines; Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; Asian Rural Women’s Coalition; International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific;

Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand; Solidaritas Perempuan, Indoneisa