by Nina Somera, Isis International

Manila - (22 October 2009) The Asia Pacific NGO Forum on Beijing + 15 opened today here at Miriam College in the Philippines, with no less than Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Undersecretary General and UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Executive Secretary gracing the process.

Hezyer, who organised the AP NGO Forum just before the 1995 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China looked back with pride the achievements made by women: It was not so much a world conference on women but a women's conference on the world." She cited the developments in some legislations particularly in Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines and Nepal that have already put in place national plan of actions on women. She lauded Nepal because while it is still emerging from years of strife, women consist 33 per cent of the country's current parliament.

She admitted though that much remains to be desired in the implementation of Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and its expression in the national laws. Heyzer asserted that in ensuring the states' gender responsive accountability, women must be included in oversight policy-making bodies and process and that women's human rights be part of standards of accountability.

"Women must be able to ask for explanations and be participants in public debates. The advancement of women's human rights must be a standard on which power-holders are measured," she remarked.

Heyzer noted the multiple challenges women are currently facing especially with the financial crisis and fundamentalisms. In the Asia Pacific region, 25 million women who are concentrated in the manufacturing sector have lost their jobs. Labour migration, where women comprise about 70 per cent is likewise severely affected.

"Social recovery takes twice as long for women. We need to change the current development model where goods are manufactured cheaply in Asia to be consumed in the West. The forces that brought us to this crisis must be held accountable," she asserted. Heyzer added that aside from the states, focus must be given by the women's movement to the markets as "the destruction of lives can also come from the private sector."

She also pointed out the need for more women's participation in the climate change talks given the increasingly noticeable effects of global warming and frequency of disasters. This, as women and children are 14 times more likely to be affected by climate change especially disasters.

Heyzer urged the UN, states and other stakeholder to support women's issues and organising including in the gaps in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), pointing out that targets such as women's health are trailing behind. As she said, "For me, it is not enough to halve absolute poverty. Who is the other half? Women?"
Later, she assured the participants that, "whatever comes out of this process will be central to the global meeting and I invite the convenor to present the results" in that meeting.
In closing, the Singaporean feminist activist shared that some state delegates in a regional high-level process that is about to kickstart questioned her about her stopover trip to Manila. "They have missed the real decision-makers," she said. She added, "I realised that you are a demanding movement but we have learned to blend challenge with joy and commitment towards freedom from want, fear and discrimination. There is no turning back."