APWLD is Asia Pacific’s leading feminist, membership driven network. Our 180 members represent organisations and groups of diverse women from 25 countries in the region. We use capacity development, research, advocacy and activism to claim and strengthen women’s human rights. Our active membership provides the strength and expertise that drives and executes our work: to promote women’s human rights enshrined in international human rights instruments, and to empower women and their movements in Asia to claim equality, justice, peace and sustainable and inclusive development.
This is a time when multiple crises (economic, environmental, food, energy, democratic), and shifting global, economic and political power relations create significant challenges for women’s movements. It is well documented that the economic, environmental and food crises have impacted most on marginalised women of the global south. The financial crises has resulted in diminished funds for women’s rights work and a resurgence of ‘austerity’ policies that impact particularly negatively on women. Meanwhile, civil society and social movements have created dialogue around economic and development models, the nature of democracy and the impact and dangers of growing inequalities.
The economic crisis of recent years has impacted on the region, particularly countries whose economies are based on export led growth. In India, a total of one million jobs were estimated to be lost due to the direct and indirect effects of the financial crisis and recession of 2008/2009. Many other people saw a drop in wages as the knock-on effects spread through the economy. Migrant workers were the first discarded in many shrinking economies and the crisis exacerbated the increasing shift from formal to informal labour conditions.
The Economic crisis also meant diminished funding for development aid and an increasing focus on ‘emerging economies’ as sources of formal and informal development. While the crisis appears to have furthered the shift in economic power to Asia, it has done so without a critical analysis of the burden of economic growth on the region´s women.
The narrative of the ‘Asian Century’ suggests that Asia will serve as the world’s economic engine ensuring economic growth continues. This model relies on the fuel of cheap, unregulated labour, most commonly performed by women. It relies on policies of neo-liberal globalisation that have been demonstrated to fuel inequalities and mask poverty.
Increasingly the growth in inequalities has led to a recognition that the world’s policy-making is accruing mostly to the top billion. The ‘trickle’ down, economic growth approach to development promoted through globalisation has failed to alleviate poverty and inequalities and instead increased inequalities between and within states as well as between men and women. Recognition that a new development model is required is gaining momentum. APWLD promotes rights based, equitable, feminist models of development in key policy platforms internationally, regionally and nationally.
Movements for Democracy
Globally new people’s movements for democracy and justice have evolved, often with women’s movements playing a central role. In many cases, however, women appear to be less audible in the emergent democracies. In Asia there are democratic shifts taking place as well with movements calling for real democratic space in several countries, In Malaysia, APWLD member Empower, coordinates the Bersih movement calling for free and clean democracy. In Burma / Myanmar we have seen significant changes in approaches to democracy but so far little to secure faith that the shift will be meaningful for policy development and implementation for women’s rights albeit certainly increased space for dialogue with civil society around human rights. It is crucial that there is capacity development of women to take up leadership roles in their communities when these shifts occur.
While there has been advances in women’s democratic representation in some countries where quota laws have been introduced (Nepal and Timor Leste particularly), there has been little overall increase in women’s representation. The Pacific Islands emain the worlds worst region for women’s political representation despite 3 women being elected in the recent PNG elections and some hope that quota bills may become law in the region.
Domestic violence continues to be prevalent across the region and fuelled by unequal access to remedies as well as by fundamentalisms that promote women’s chastity and identity as commodities. Rising movements to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs that fuel violence and allow it to occur with impunity have most recently enabled far more rigorous debate and offer potential for both policy changes and community change.
Militarisation continues to impact on democratic rights of women across the region directly (where military continues to hold power as in Fiji) and indirectly where the military plays significant roles in maintaining power and privilege (i.e in Cambodia, Philippines, China). Militarism also fuels violence against women in the community and at home. Militarisation of corporate interests, particularly in extractive industries, is also increasing in the region with little accountability mechanisms.
Contest over resources
Resource conflicts are evident in the region and having deleterious impact on women’s rights. It is estimated that more than 200 million hectares of land have been acquired by governments and corporations, mostly in the past 3 years in the global south. These acquisitions displace people from their land and we have witnessed brutal suppression of women human rights defenders protesting forced evictions and displacement particularly in Cambodia, Philippines, Nepal, Burma, Papua New Guinea. Governance over resources will be an increasingly important area for women to secure and exercise a voice in the region.
Pushes to increase women’s labour force participation have failed, in most countries, to result in decent work opportunities for women. The largest single form of employment for women in the region is domestic work and the majority of women are unable to avail labour protections or standards. Most working women live in poverty in the region. Moves to advance women’s labour rights will be crucial to more equitable development.
Crises in multilateralism
Traditional methods of engaging in global policy setting are failing to produce substantive results for human rights enjoyment, Instead, women face regression of standards and language, particularly around sexual rights. While we need to protect the space, utlilise strategic venues and oppose regression, we also need to prioritise working with increasingly influential regional blocs and entities. At the same time we need to unpack what this move to regionalism and the ‘Asian century’ really mean to women’s rights and development.
APWLD continues to dissect the ways that globalisation, miliarisation and fundamentalisms fuse with patriarchy to deny women’s rights enjoyment. We will do this in both existing and new ways and include in that framework analysis of environmental and democratic crises that marginalise women.