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Gender Justice Vital for Country's Development

By Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS)

The Asia Pacific region contains some of the world's most powerful economies and the 21st Century is often touted as belonging to this region. Yet it is home to 66% of the world's poorest poor. Denouncing such stark disparities, the 1st plenary session at the 2nd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2014) currently being held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, focussed upon "Feminist Visions - framing strategies, analysis and resistances in the current political, economic and social movement."

The speakers, as well as the audience, reiterated the need for a new development framework based upon a development justice model (as opposed to the corporate model) that includes economic justice, social justice, environmental justice and accountability to people.

Kate Lapping, Regional Coordinator, Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD), lamented that globalisation, fundamentalism, militarization and patriarchy have joined hands to produce the stark inequality plaguing our world. Research shows that the total earnings of 85 individuals in the world are more than the combined income of 50% of the world's population. Gina Rinehart, a woman in Australia, earns in one minute what a government worker earns in her whole life time.

In our hunger for power and degradation of natural resources "we have already exceeded 4 of the 9 environmental boundaries, making planet earth environmentally unsustainable. Ownership of land is concentrated in the hands of a few which further fuels women injustice."

She said that to chart our common strategies and the way forward in solidarity with each other.

Judy M Taguiwalo, Chair of the Committee on Women Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Philippines, appealed for resisting the neo-liberal hijack of feminism. She insisted upon harnessing women's energies to remove glaring economic and social inequalities by promoting the type of feminism in which gender emancipation goes hand in hand with participatory democracy and social solidarity. Redistribution remains the key plank of this feminism which is very much wedded to the people's movement that is both economic and political. However while creating waves and fostering movements, it is important to clarify the economic, political and social context of the region and how women respond collectively to such context.

Judy pointed out that:

  • Increasing poverty in the region further increases heavy workload for women; reduces their job opportunities more than men
  • Privatization of social services results in women taking on more care-giving roles on top of economic responsibilities
  • Fundamentalism curtails women's already limited exercise of their human rights and exacerbates violence against women
  • War and the accompanying human rights violations are affecting more and more women
  • Migrant women are highly vulnerable to violence and to unprotected work conditions
  • Loss of bio-diversity and environmental quality affect rural and indigenous women adversely
  • She said that, "We must say no to Privatization; say no Discrimination on the basis of class, gender, or disability; say yes to Peace instead of war and militarization; and insist upon Inclusive growth and development."

    In the opinion of Tin Tinyo, General Secretary, Women's League of Burma, "feminism is a collection of ideologies and movements aimed at defining and defending equal political, economic, cultural and social rights for women. The focus of feminists' movements should be to influence decisions on matters concerning women (including building sustainable peace) through greater participation of women in political decision making processes, economic empowerment and increasing access to natural resources. There should be zero tolerance for all forms of violence."

    Rizwana Hassan, an environmentalist from Bangladesh (whose speech was read in absentia) spoke to Citizen News Service (CNS) about the struggle for environmental justice in Bangladesh where 60% of the population earns their living from agriculture, while millions depend on the forest for their livelihood. Degradation of the environment has direct implication for the commoners whose lives are inextricably linked with nature and natural resources. Women are especially vulnerable to such degradation as their access gets further limited and their ability to cope with alternative choices is less.

    The core values of the women's movement in Bangladesh include upholding community ownership and management of natural resources in a just, equitable and gender sensitive way. This runs contrary to the core objective of commercialization through the ongoing exploitative mode of resource utilization. The strategies include legal assistance, awareness raising, community mobilization, and networking both at national and global level.

    It would be appropriate to quote the great poet and author Maya Angelou (who passed away recently) here:

    Did you want to see me broken?
    Bowed head and lowered eyes?
    You may shoot me with your words,
    You may cut me with your eyes,
    But still like air
    I will rise. I will rise

    Let all of us rise in solidarity against injustice and inequality affecting society.

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