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International Women’s Day
8 March 2012

Let us cherish and celebrate the
Strength and Diversity of Colours, Cultures & Identities of

IWRAW Asia Pacific wishes to take this moment to acknowledge and commemorate the struggles and merits of women, who for the last century and more, have strived for peace, freedom, independence, democracy and in bringing to the forefront the issues and struggles for ending violence, discrimination and unequal power relations in society. International Women’s Day has marked the empowerment of women’s economic, political and social achievements. Today we witness women at the forefront of movements that seek to end tyrannical regimes and establish governments that work for the needs and aspirations of all people.

What is the reality for women today?

Economic and trade liberalization, the capitalist market economy, non sustainable consumerism all hallmarks of the current global economic and development framework, are not environments that enhance gender equality, nor contribute successfully towards the eradication of poverty. Women continue to lose ground and this regressive pattern has negatively affected women's struggle against pervasive and deeply entrenched gender relations in our societies. Inequalities based on gender identity, and exacerbated by class, ethnic, racial and other divisions, are a feature of all societies. To achieve full recognition of women’s rights and for people centred development to work it needs to also address socially constructed power relations, norms and practices which inform family dynamics, communities, religious bodies, states, institutions, and political parties as well as mass and social movements.

The UN theme this year to “Empower Women – End Hunger and Poverty” emphasises the full circle we have come in our quest for gender equality; particularly in addressing the impact of poverty on women. This also raises the political question of women’s agency and their role in poverty eradication and progress in human and social development. It is ironic that women continue to account for 70% of the world’s poor. Reports also show that when a substantial proportion of the global population is poor (i), poverty cannot be detached from the dynamics of development (ii).

A particular emphasis is needed in addressing the disproportionate burden of poverty and the denial of women’s human rights. Women's poverty often results in widespread violations of their human rights. Lack of access to food security, adequate housing, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, education, employment, safe working environment and equal pay amongst others violates the human rights of women and makes them vulnerable to poverty. This leads to denial of the fundamental right to a life of dignity and non-discrimination.

Women’s participation and contribution to development, economic growth and poverty eradication is undervalued. It continues to be hampered by illiteracy, vulnerability to family and social strictures, violence, denial of access to resources and relegation to a reproductive role, amongst other factors. Further, policies, plans and programmes aimed at reducing poverty and increasing economic empowerment view women as either the recipient of aid/benefits or as instruments in advancing economic development (iii), instead of active participants (iv),.

International human rights treaties, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recognise the obligations of states parties to take “all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women”. This includes ensuring women’s equal rights with men in “education”, “right to work”, “access to healthcare and adequate healthcare facilities”, “bank loans”, “credit”, and to benefit from “social security programmes” as well as to “enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications" (v).

Noting the layers of discrimination, it is essential to locate women’s rights at the heart of development and also increase the participation of women within the development process. This is important in order to lead towomen’s empowerment and full and equal participation in all spheres of society, including participation in decision-making processes, and access to power, which are fundamental for the achievement of gender and social justice, substantive democracy and peace for all (vi).

Given the current trajectory of the development discourse, it is pivotal for women to maximise the opportunities and spaces and participate as full agents of change in development and poverty eradication. The ongoing processes(vii) of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)(viii) and the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20)(ix), Millennium Development Goals (MDG) review as well as the ICPD review will be an opportunity to ensure that a feminist perspective, placing women at the centre of a people-centred development model, is adopted. 

This day provides a timely opportunity to reinforce the substantial progress needed to ensure a holistic rights based approach for the advancement of women’s human rights within the development agenda.  There must be recognition for the need to eliminate all discrimination, and the promotion of substantive equality to establish women’s human rights as the heart of empowerment of women. This must be central in the development of policies, plans and programmes aimed at ending hunger and eradicating poverty. We call on all our states and UN agencies tasked to develop these policies/programmes to adopt a rights based approach and ensure the full participation of ALL women!

International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
10-2, Jalan Bangsar Utama 9,
59000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: (603) 2282 2255
Fax: (603) 2283 2552
Email: iwraw-ap@iwraw-ap.org, iwraw_ap@yahoo.com
Website: www.iwraw-ap.org

(i) Reynolds, Margaret, Human Rights and Poverty Eradication: A Talisman for the Commonwealth,  Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

(ii) Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics, UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) study, 2010

(iii) Key Demands from Women’s Rights Organizations to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (Busan, Korea, 2011) and the Development Cooperation Forum (2012)

(iv) International Women’s Organizations Consultation on Development Cooperation, Women’s Rights and Gender Equality held in Brussels, Belgium, 9-10 June 2011. The consultation was hosted by WIDE Network and co-organized with the BetterAid Coordination Group: the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and Coordinadora de la Mujer from Bolivia.

(v) Articles 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16                                                                                  

(vi) Key Demands from Women’s Rights Organizations to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (Busan, Korea, 2011) and the Development Cooperation Forum (2012)

(vii) hese processes aim to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date, the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges.

(viii) Considering the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges' as its priority theme during its fifty-sixth session from the 27 February – 9 March 2012

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