A hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘You’ve got to keep on moving forward’ marked the beginning of the UN ESCAP High Level Intergovernmental Meeting to Review Regional Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and its Regional and Global Outcomes in Bangkok on 16 November 2009.
Over two hundred women and men from governments and NGO’s attended the High Level Meeting at UN ESCAP to discuss and debate the 15 year review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA).
Dr Noeleen Heyzer (Under Secretary General of ESCAP), led proceedings by acknowledging her own journey since the 4th World Conference in Beijing. She outlined the achievements since Beijing and stated that “these advancements are creating real improvements to the lives of millions of mothers, sisters, daughters and grand daughters across the Asia Pacific region”.
She then went on to outline that “despite the progress over the last 14 years, persistent obstacles and challenges remain”. Violence, domestic violence,and the rise of extremism in the name of culture has led to a closing of spaces for women. High incidences of maternal deaths due to lack of maternal health services. Lack of women in high levels across all spheres of public life – as leaders in government, businesses and the broader community.
She also commented on the need for well resourced and politically supported national women’s machineries are crucial to support gender equality. As emerging issues she touched on the world financial system and an unprecedented period of economic uncertainty and the implications of this on women and girls. How this has led to women facing battles on multiple fronts. Climate change was also a key emerging challenge with women and children being 14 times more likely to be victims of natural disasters than men.
In her closing, she acknowledged three truly remarkable women “Thampuying Sumalee Chartikavanij, Founding member of Thai Women Watch, Patricia Licuanan and Khunying Supatra Masdid for their vision and courage to improve women’s lives and their commitment to gender equality and empowerment of women. “We should be proud of the gains, however, we must realize that there is still much that remains to be done,,,,,, Let us keep on moving forward, never turning back” .
Following Noeleen, Ms Carolyn Hannan (Director UN Division for the Advancement of Women), Joanne Sandler (Deputy Executive Director of UNIFEM), and Ms Chompoonute Nakornthap (Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Thailand) shared their journey from the 4th World Conference at Beijing and presented the current situation of women in the Asia Pacific Region. Regional and International actions to eliminate violence, enhance women, peace and security and address HIV/AIDS were discussed. All of which have built on the gains of the Beijing Platform for Action.
Bringing Civil Society voice to the opening ceremony, Dr Patricia Licuanan shared the outcomes document from the recently held Asia Pacific NGO Forum with the assembled regional governments and NGOs. As she delivered the outcomes from the APNGO forum the images from the 700 women from 46 countries who attended the forum were displayed on the 3 screens surrounding the room. The statement presented the gains, challenges and recommendations from the forum to the assembled governments and NGOs. Following the opening session, the AP NGO Fourm Outcomes Document was shared with all assembled.
Her Excellency Ms Fiame Mata’afa, Minister of Women, Samoa was proposed as Chair of the meeting by Australia and seconded by Indonesia. Government delegations were invited to participate in the drafting committee of the UN ESCAP Outcomes Document / Declaration.
After the election of officers and adoption of the forum agenda, the sessions began in earnest with the first session providing experts from the region discussing ‘Accountability for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Asia-Pacific region: gender-responsive planning and public spending’. Following this session Country reports were shared and updates on actions to address gender equality were shared.
Following lunch were more country statements in which Australia presented its strong commitment to the full implementation of the BPFA.
Panel session ‘Responses to the economic crisis – women’s economic security and rights’ ended the working day and marking the event, the Royal Thai Government invited government delegates and NGOs to share light refreshment and Thai dancing. This was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends, build new alliances and share experiences.