Preparing for CSW64: An Asia-Pacific Perspective on the Beijing Platform for Action

The Pan Pacific and South-East Asia Women's Association (PPSEAWA) is a non-governmental organization that has documented the reality of women’s lives in the Asia-Pacific region for over 90 years. PPSEAWA’s mission is to promote cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region toward common goals: ensuring equal access to education and health, financial literacy, building skills for decision-making and leadership, and eliminating all forms of violence against women. Gender inequality persists because of discriminatory gender stereotypes and cultural attitudes. Drawing attention to a few PPSEAWA programs that address the cultural dimension of gender inequality shows how small positive steps help meet the targets raised at the United Nations.

PPSEAWA was recognized by the League of Nations as a voice for Pacific women in the early 20th century. PPSEAWA delegates from thirteen countries met for the first Pan-Pacific Women’s Conference in Hawai’i, a U.S. Trust Territory, in August 1928. The women who formed the Association came from diverse backgrounds including settlers and indigenous people, colonized and colonizers. They consciously acknowledged their cultural and racial differences, and women could speak with their own agency on the issues facing them. Today, PPSEAWA’s triennial conferences continue to bring women together to share data and best practices, and to promote cooperation between countries for economic and social development. PPSEAWA also shares these best practices through its representatives on NGO Committees at the UN, at meetings of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and at meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

PPSEAWA takes special interest in commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The United Nations affirmed the important commitment and contributions of non-governmental organizations at the NGO Forum ’95, which took place in Huairou, China, from August 30 - September 8, 1995, as a parallel event to the Fourth World Conference on Women. Khunying Supatra Masadit from Thailand was the Convener of the NGO Forum, which attracted 30,000 participants - making it one of the largest conferences ever held by the UN. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) from the Fourth World Conference represented a global commitment that women’s rights were human rights. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Fourth World Conference on Women was to connect women activists with each other, and to cement their political will to achieve women’s empowerment. They have pushed governments to dismantle barriers to women’s participation in decision-making, and held leaders accountable for distributing resources equally between men and women.

Education and Economic Opportunity

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development picks up from the Beijing Platform by recognizing that poverty is the greatest obstacle to women’s empowerment. Women are poorer than men in all racial groups, elderly women are twice as likely to be poor than elderly men, and 1-in-3 single mothers live in poverty. While girls and women have benefitted from greater access to primary education, many are still excluded. Common barriers to girls’ education include distance, cost, health, fear of violence, and household chores - a girl’s contribution to the household is often valued more than her education. 

PPSEAWA strives to ensure quality education for all through scholarships for girls living in vulnerable conditions. PPSEAWA supports girls at a school for the hearing-impaired in India founded by one of its members, schools for migrant and refugee children in Thailand along the border with Myanmar and Laos, a school for children in a scavengers’ community in Indonesia. PPSEAWA even travels by boat to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs to children in the remote villages of Sarawak, Malaysia. 

As a NGO, PPSEAWA is acutely aware of the cultural dimension of gender inequality. The conventional attitude that assumes men are breadwinners and women are caregivers is eroding in the Asia Pacific region. PPSEAWA provides relevant economic skills for financial success by helping rural village women access markets in Fiji and agricultural training for women in the cultivation of local foods for supplemental income in Samoa and Japan. PPSEAWA also promotes decent work for women and financial independence. PPSEAWA has an innovative vocational training program for women in prison in Thailand so they can start a small business upon release. There is a “waste bank” project for impoverished elderly women without family support; they collect plastic and paper recyclables for sale as basic income. 

Health

PPSEAWA is committed to the health and wellbeing of girls and women. PPSEAWA organizes a dental hygiene campaign in schools in Fiji. PPSEAWA holds “Safe Sex” programs for secondary students in schools in Thailand, a country with high HIV prevalence. PPSEAWA runs a training workshop for teachers at a school for the handicapped on teaching sex education to ensure every girl can understand her sexual and reproductive rights. PPSEAWA co-sponsored a CSW event on substance use and presented preventive programs for adolescents on tobacco and alcohol use. PPSEAWA also provides health services for women. PPSEAWA hosts screenings for breast and cervical cancer in New Zealand, and has an annual breast cancer checkup at a women’s prison and at a residential home for abused girls and women in Thailand. 

PPSEAWA seeks to break the silence and stigma surrounding mental health. According to the World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are responsible for 4 out of 5 deaths in the Asia Pacific region, and more than 100 million people suffer from depressive disorders. PPSEAWA has co-sponsored several events at the United Nations on NCDs and mental health. Best practices from these events include raising public awareness through radio programs, intergenerational community centers, and respite and counseling services for caregivers. There are PPSEAWA programs with regular visits to reclusive or housebound seniors in Fiji and New Zealand.

Eliminating Violence Against Women and Trafficking 

Peace is a core value for PPSEAWA. Although the global average for physical and sexual violence is thirty percent, the prevalence for the Pacific region is higher at an average of 2-in-3 women experiencing violence in their lifetimes.

PPSEAWA is strongly committed to ending violence against women and furthering the empowerment of survivors of violence. PPSEAWA regularly hosts anti-trafficking seminars that present cross-cultural perspectives on survivor services and prosecution of perpetrators. PPSEAWA members have contributed to anti-trafficking national legislation in Malaysia and a NGO Shadow Report on the Status of Women in Samoa for the UN. PPSEAWA takes a victim-centered approach, supporting emergency shelters, transitional housing programs for women and children, and recovery and empowerment programs for survivors. Violence survivors sometimes drop out of job training programs because of small obstacles, so PPSEAWA provides incentives such as computer training, transportation vouchers, and childcare assistance. PPSEAWA invests in prevention programs; for example, PPSEAWA engages boys and men to be champions of change promoting non-violence in Samoa. 

In conclusion, PPSEAWA recognizes that there are significant structural barriers for women to achieve gender equality by 2030. We recommend that Governments:

Implement SDG 2.1, 2.3

  • Ensure children in vulnerable situations have access to nutritious and sufficient meals at schools
  • Increase secure and equal access to land, knowledge, markets and financial services for small-scale food producers who are women

Implement SDG 3.4, 3.5, 3.7, 3.A

  • Conduct health care analysis with respect to sex, gender, and ethnic differentiation
  • Enable access to and allocate resources for preventive and primary care 
  • Develop community-based mental health services 
  • Improve access to sexual and reproductive health care services, especially for adolescent girls and women in vulnerable circumstances

Implement SDG 4.4, 4A

  • Build and upgrade inclusive and safe schools. Offer spaces that are disability and gender sensitive, inclusive curriculums which include flexible timetables, child care assistance, and culturally responsive teaching, and provide equal access to a wide range of technologies and programming in sports and arts

Implement SDG 5.2, 5.4, 5.6, 5B

  • Provide victim-centered, human rights programs for survivors of violence and aid their recovery efforts
  • Recognize unpaid care work through provisions in the social security and pension funds
  • Provide public services and social protection policies that include respite care for caregivers
  • Provide public services and social protection policies that promote shared responsibility within the household and care work as nationally appropriate social norm

Implement SDG 16.2

  • End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against children 

Dated October 14, 2019