The Beijing Platform for Action rightly recognises the extraordinary barriers that women face to the full enjoyment of their human rights. In the Asia Pacific region, as in much of the global South, social and economic inequality and the crippling effects of poverty define the lives of millions of women, precluding their enjoyment of a broad range of interconnected rights. At the root of much of this is a fundamentally inequitable model of development privileging growth over equity and human rights, which is being aggressively promoted at a national and international level. When combined with longstanding and entrenched social and cultural norms that discriminate against women, this growth-oriented model has had a devastating impact on women in the region. Indeed, a recent Expert Group report for the UN Commission on the Status of Women concluded that “the prevailing neo-liberal economic model is incapable of supporting gender-equitable sustainable development.”[1]

This submission demonstrates that the binding international commitments governments have made to uphold women’s rights (all but two countries in the region have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) have been significantly undermined by a shift away from government regulation of markets and provision of essential services. For women, especially rural, indigenous and urban poor women, this has meant a series of interconnected developments that have greatly exacerbated their vulnerability: for example, decreasing accessibility of essential public services (one cause of which has been prescriptions by international financial institutions to privatise government utilities) has meant an increase in the amount of unpaid care work undertaken by women; this in turn has decreased the capacity of women to participate in decision-making processes in their communities, which has further cemented their marginalisation in negotiations and decisions over community resources, such as land. Another example is the negative impact of trade liberalisation on the viability of small-scale agriculture and small enterprises, which has in turn prompted increasing numbers of women to migrate in search of work.  These are just two examples of the way that the progress of governments in many of the Beijing Platform’s Critical Areas is determined by the broader macroeconomic framework.

The detrimental effects of this framework on women’s rights is also highlighted by the pernicious impacts of economic inequality, both within and between countries, the current extent of which could not have been predicted when the Beijing Platform was drafted. The extreme levels of inequality that now exist[2] not only pose a tremendous threat to inclusive political and economic systems, but also greatly exacerbate the effects of gender equality.[3] For example, research has shown that a range of health and social indicators, including levels of violence, get worse as levels of income inequality increase.[4] Income inequality is extremely high across Asia,[5] with the worst example being China which had a Gini coefficient of 0.47 in 2012.[6]

This submission focuses on those issues that are most relevant to APWLD’s members—poverty; decent work; violence; decision-making; and the environment. Among the emerging areas of concern highlighted in this report are climate change and disaster risk reduction, discussed under Critical Area K.



[1] UN Women, Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Structural and Policy Constraints in Achieving the MDGs for Women and Girls (2013) p.17.

[2] See, e.g. Oxfam, Working for the Few: Political Capture and Economic Inequality (2014).

[3] Ibid, p.21.

[4] UNICEF, Global Inequality: Beyond the Bottom Billion—A Rapid Review of Income Distribution in 141 Countries (2011), 33.

[5] Asian Development Bank, Confronting Rising Inequality in Asia (2012).