Make ASEAN truly people-centered, uplift women’s lives
More than 400 women representing civil society from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convened in Kuala Lumpur to demand more accountability from their government on April 22, 2015. Malaysia is hosting the ASEAN this year, and its foreign minister had emphasized that the agenda of the summit would be “people-centered.”
“It is high time that our governments move beyond the rhetoric and political declarations to ensure in real terms that women’s rights and gender equality be the topmost priority in building the ASEAN Community. Women in the region will continue to be vigilant and seek accountability from our governments”, stressed Ivy Josiah of Kuala Lumpur-based Women’s Aid Organisation, and also a member of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development.
Even with promises and policies, ASEAN women still cannot find much aid from their own governments. Just in the past week, Cambodian women who had been forcefully evicted from their homes to make way for development projects were released only after a year’s incarceration. Meanwhile, a Filipina migrant domestic worker who had been a victim of human trafficking herself, faces a death sentence in Indonesia for alleged drug trafficking. These cases put the spotlight on the development policies in the ASEAN that drives these women to desperate measures: fighting landgrabbing, or seeking work abroad only to be exploited by traffickers. Human rights activists and organisers have voiced concerns that ASEAN’s profit-driven pursuit of growth is leaving women behind.
The region has seen a surge of development ‘growth’ in terms of investments and trade, particularly among countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia. The 10 member nations of ASEAN are aiming at forming the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015. This will signal more trade facilitation, investment facilitation and economic harmonisation policies that are more likely to benefit corporations than the people of ASEAN themselves.
Eni Lestari, chair of the International Migrants Alliance, challenged ASEAN governments: “Will it meaningfully address the fundamental causes of women’s oppression? Will the ASEAN be accountable to women and build economies that will counter the dehumanizing impact of neoliberal globalization? Will they create a platform that will truly empower us, instead of treating us like doormats and placemats in an increasingly oppressive global social order? Because it if it is not and it won’t, then the ASEAN is no different. Commodification and flexibilisation of labour, intensification of labour export, liberalization of economies, exploitation of people, especially women in marginalized sectors, degradation of our environment, injustice will prevail.”
APWLD member Joms Salvador of Gabriela-Philippines said, “The current market-led economic development has only widened the gap between the rich minority and the poor majority and all the more exposed vulnerable sectors especially women to intersecting conditions of poverty, violence and discrimination. ASEAN should work towards structural changes. A new development model framed on Development Justice is necessary to make the ASEAN Community truly people-centred.”
The women gathered at the ASEAN Women’s Forum, which preceded the ASEAN People’s Forum from 22 to 24 April 2015. Participants at the forum took the stance that women’s rights should be tackled across all ASEAN goals because there are intrinsic links between women’s rights and achieving all the main priorities of the region. While recognising these interlinkages, it is also important to engage women from different sectors for all decision making processes within the ASEAN community. The participants gave a thumbs down as an expression of their dissappointment in ASEAN’s scorecard with regards to women’s rights.