Asia-Pacific countries are making major headway on improving the lives of women and girls in the region. In Kyrgyzstan, landmark legislation on violence against women has been enacted. In Mongolia, maternal deaths at child birth have decreased dramatically to less than 100 per 100,000 live births. And in Nepal, women now fill 32.8 per cent of seats in parliament. These and other milestones in the stride for gender equality have been spurred by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary this year.
Unanimously adopted by 189 countries in 1995, the Platform called for international commitment in 12 areas of critical concern for women and girls such as education, economy, violence and politics. In Asia-Pacific, tangible results in advancing gender equality are evident, fifteen years on. This progress was featured at an ESCAP gathering of Ministers and senior officials from 40 countries in the region, held in Bangkok, from 16-18 November 2009. "We recognize the role and positive impact that the Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW and Millennium Development Goals have in helping countries to achieve and maintain their gender equality goals", stated Chompoonute Nakornthap, Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. "And we consider it crucial to translate those commitments into solid action." The ESCAP meeting showcased success stories on women’s empowerment from across the region.
In the Philippines, a Magna Carta for Women's Law was adopted in 2009, laying out comprehensive women's human rights legislation. In Tonga, a Domestic Violence Unit was established in the Ministry of Police in 2007. In Sri Lanka, women have been successful in drawing attention to gender issues in the peace process. And in the Cook Islands, a National Policy on Reproductive health was adopted in 2008, along with a strategic plan to guide its implementation. The creation of women's departments in almost all countries in the region, was cited by ESCAP's Executive Secretary, Dr Noeleen Heyzer, as a concrete outcome of the 1995 Platform for Action.
Further, the Women's Convention, CEDAW, that aims to put an end to gender discrimination, has been adopted by almost all nations. Dr Heyzer cautioned however, that despite these gains, real challenges remain. Half of the world’s maternal deaths occur in Asia and the Pacific owning to complications during pregnancy and at child birth. Also violence against women still poses a significant challenge to the region. Furthermore, Dr Heyzer noted, "There is still so little accountability to women. Women must be included in systems of oversight at every level. They must be legitimate participants in all spheres of public life."
Attended by close to 400 participants of governments, NGOs and international organization, the ESCAP High Level meeting on Gender Equality had the following objectives: taking stock of achievements made in the region since 1995; laying out future challenges; and identifying ways to bridge the gap between policy and practice. Delegates called for renewed action in the region in specific areas of concern to women:
accountability mechanisms in national policy making statistical capacity building farming support poverty eradication entrepreneurship information and communication technologies, and violence
A strong mandate was also given to ESCAP to strengthen its work in supporting initiatives for gender equality across the region, including mainstreaming gender considerations across all of its own programmes. Reaffirming their commitment to women's empowerment at the highest level of decision making in the Bangkok Declaration, regional leaders spoke with one voice at the ESCAP meeting. Backed up by the rich experiences of governments, civil society and international organizations, this regional position will make an important contribution to the global summit to mark the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, to be held in New York in March 2010.