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The Second Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics, held on 31 August to 1 September 1995 in Huairou, Beijing was a reunion of sorts for some participants from CAPWIP's First Congress. Attended by 237 women participants from various Asia-Pacific countries, this was the chance for most of them to renew old ties, review the platform for action that has been drawn up in Manila, and share lessons learned. But beyond this, the meeting was also significant because it was held within two global events - the NGO Forum on Women and the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women. The imperatives of influencing the UN Platform for Action on Women served as a challenge to the women participants of the Second Congress to reach out to women from other regions, to refine their vision, goals and strategies to enhance women's participation in politics.
In the Asia-Pacific region, consultations among women in politics have been steadily increasing from the grassroots all the way to the national and regional levels. What women in politics want, so fundamental in concept yet so difficult to achieve, is equality and meaningful participation.
Consultations were carried out mainly through congresses where individuals and organizations of various interests-- but all dedicated to the cause of political empowerment of women, met to discuss and draw up strategies for brining about a system of gender-sensitive and transformative politics. Since 1994, congresses of such nature have been held in East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific with the initiative of the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics.
In June 1994, the First Congress of Asia-Pacific Women in Politics was held in Manila, Philippines. This activity was attended by 237 women representing 23 countries in the region and gave birth to the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP).
The Congress was echoed a year later in Suva, Fiji, where Pacific women and men involved in politics met in July 1995. The 4-day Congress was attended by 26 women and 9 men from 15 Pacific Island nations. The highlight of the Congress was the establishment of the Women in Politics Pacific Centre (WIPPaC).
In August 1995, a Conference on South Asian women was held in Katmandu where 2,000 women marched to demand political participation. Delegates from India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh joined the conference, during which the South Asian Centre for the Political Empowerment of Women (SACPEW) was formed.
Another sub-regional conference, this time for East Asia, was hosted by the Korean Institute For Women and Politics (KIWP) in Huairou, Beijing, during the NGO Forum on Women. Some 250 participants from Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Indonesia attended the gathering.
Some unresolved problems between the women of Jordan and Palestine unfortunately prevented West Asia from holding its own meeting on the issue prior to the NGO Forum on Women.
The different congresses undertook a process of consultation, from the grassroots to the sub-regional and regional levels. Where no majority of women from the local level was involved, their concerns were taken up by others as committed to the political empowerment of women in their country.
The "Asia-Pacific Platform for Action for Women in Politics" therefore came as a culmination of 4 sub-regional congresses held prior to, or during, the NGO Forum in Huairou, Beijing, China.
Context: The Political Situation of Women in the Asia-Pacific Region
In the Asia-Pacific region, public policies are formulated and executed largely by men. Consequently, women's issues are rarely articulated, much less addressed.
Women's lack of participation in decision-making extends beyond the public arena. In the private sphere, Asia-Pacific women are socialized in a way that promotes their stereotyping as mere followers and supporters of their men, instead of being leaders or equal partners inside and outside their homes. Women are brought up to believe that they have little or no control or power over their bodies and their environment. Such continuing bias is embedded in social structures and has led to poverty and a sense of being powerless among most women in the region.
The slim percentage of women occupying political positions in Asia-Pacific countries reflects this inequity.
A. EAST ASIA
The sub-region has a reasonably high number of women participating in political decision-making in their countries as follows:
China - 21% in the National People's Congress
- 12.26% in the State Council
- 6.6% of the current Ministers and Vice-Ministers
Japan - 2.4% in the Lower House
- 13.9% in the Lower House
Korea - 2% of the 299 total membership of the national legislature.
B. SOUTH ASIA/SOUTH EAST ASIA
Some of the countries of the South and South East Asia sub-region have women occupying the top political seats of their country.
Bangladesh - 10.6% of the national MPs (Members of Parliament) are women, including the Prime Minister Pakistan - 1.8% of the national MPs are women, including the Prime Minister India - Despite the fact that India is the largest democracy in the Asia-Pacific region, it only has 7.4% women MPs in its House Nepal - 6.4% women's representation Sri Lanka - 4.7% women's representation Maldives - 6.2% women's representation Bhutan - 5.7% women's representation Philippines - 4 out of 24 national Senators are women Singapore - None, as stated by a Singapore woman regarding the political situation of women in her country: "Men govern while women provide support."
C. THE PACIFIC
Data regarding the political situation of women in each Pacific country is not readily available. General information on the three sub-regions reveals that women's participation in politics is limited to the following figures:
Micronesia - 6% women's representation Polynesia - 4% women's representation Melanesia - 1% women's representation
Resolutions of the Second Congress of Asia-Pacific Women in Politics
A. POLITICAL GOALS
- Clean and green politics
- Women's empowerment through participatory democracy
- Nation-building on the basis of sustainable development, human rights and social justice
- Elimination of gender discrimination and harassment of women
- Elimination of illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and inequality
- Elimination of corruption, communalism, caste-system and regionalism
- Elimination of crime, violence and war
- A new political culture based upon compassion and cooperation
- Regional harmony in the Asia-Pacific region and a humane world system
B. GENERAL STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTING CHANGES IN THE POLITICAL SYSTEM
- Work for women to have 50% representation in all decision-making bodies at every level-- "half the world, half the power" concept.
- Lobby for electoral reform. Efforts should be made to bring about legal and institutional changes to promote women's political participation, including constitutional amendments.
- Work for quotas in political bodies -- appointive and elected positions, structures of political parties as a short-term measure to increase the number of women in such bodies.
C. PLATFORM FOR ACTION 1: PROMOTING WOMEN'S EQUAL ACCESS TO POWER IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION
To read the Platform for Action 1, click here.
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