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Women’s human rights are ASEAN women’s human rights

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Women’s human rights are ASEAN women’s human rights

In solidarity with ASEAN Women, we ask the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to take cognizance of its mandate in leading the drafting of the AHRD and act to ensure that the Declaration is shaped by a process founded in transparency, inclusiveness and accountability to ASEAN peoples, and results in strengthened institutional understanding and capacity of states to implement its human rights obligations

We are concerned that since the drafting process of the AHRD began in the first half of 2011, no draft has been circulated to the public for comments. Selected national consultations were the exception, rather than the norm,, even though it is apparent such consultations would be a first step towards engaging with various communities. For the AHRD to be relevant, it must go further than the processes thus far to be truly informed by the realities on the ground. But such feedback can only happen if there is a genuine interest and effective mechanisms to engage communities in meaningful dialogues

The secretive nature of the process necessarily forecloses a sense of ownership and pride among the ASEAN community. More worrying is the resulting language and substance of the AHRD, the possibility for it to set the bar lower than international human rights standards.

The AHRD must not merely refer to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, national constitutions or even the two legally binding documents to which all ASEAN member states are signatories: the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We urge the ASEAN member states to fully incorporate our obligations to international human rights treaties and agreed commitments of the various rights-based global policy documents in shaping the spirit and text of the AHRD.

The AHRD must not shy away from the thorny but important gains and struggles of women’s movements around discrimination, the rights to bodily integrity, sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, rights in marriage and family life and freedom of movement and citizenship, especially in a region that is marked by migration, whose dangerous consequences and difficult circumstances have been borne by women and girls. The region’s particularities must inspire AICHR to set the bar higher for women’s human rights. Women from Southeast Asia, through experts and advocates alike and their experiences have informed these gains and struggles. As part of the bigger women’s movements, we forge on to keep these from being overlooked or diluted.

As a foundational regional human rights document, the AHRD will set the tone for other human rights documents, including an ASEAN Convention on Women, for instance. Being the first in Asia Pacific, the AHRD will also be a model instrument for the rest of the region. A key consideration would be the reversal of the status quo that can potentially undermine international human rights standards.

As advocates ourselves, we urge AICHR to subject the AHRD draft to public consultation to ensure that it adheres to international human rights standards. In line with this, we reiterate that women’s human rights are ASEAN women’s human rights. This is the only way forward for ASEAN to shape the climate for people-centered sustainable development, economic growth and peace and security.

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