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The opening addresses of the Asia Pacific NGO Forum Beijing +15 emphasized the background of the conference and set the tone for the rest of the forum. The speakers recalled the previous AP NGO forum and the Nairobi forum, which contributed to the Beijing Declaration. Noeleen Heyzer, the keynote speaker and founder of AP NGO, highlighted a wide range topics including women’s achievements and contributions and challenges to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA).

In the midst of (religious and economic) fundamentalism, armed-conflict, politic turmoil, climate change, and lack of food security, NGOs in Southeast Asia are struggling to empower more women and advocating for the removal of obstacles to their empowerment . Through testimonies of their own struggles, the women, who were involved in the BFPA formulation, convinced the UN and other mainstream international organizations to establish the conference on women’s rights. After the Beijing, they worked to strengthen and mobilize women’s networking in the region as a means to pressure national governments to implement the BFPA and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Feminisms Through the Generations

The first two plenary sessions were entitled “Feminisms Through Generations.” The first panel was comprised of older generations of feminist leaders that are more established, followed by a second panel of younger generations of feminist leaders. Both panels stressed that the younger generations should not take women’s rights, nor their present condition for granted. They encouraged the younger generations, who are greatly influenced by the media industry, which is based on the liberal economy, to criticize their political situation.

The older generations of feminists emphasized that the main issue in their eras was equal opportunity to get education. Right now, it is not an issue anymore in countries like Japan. However, younger generations from Japan pointed out that although many girls and women fare much better academically, women’s careers are often interrupted by childbirth and subsequent childcare. This may be a contributing factor in there being less women in managerial positions, especially in the private sector. Women are considered as “walking in the clerical track,” – lacking in the commitment and leadership experience needed to be managers.

The older generations suggested that the forum give more attention to influencing the private sector because they play an important role in the financial crisis which affects women’s lives and their family.

The younger generations emphasized that some of the challenges and issues they are facing have not changed from the previous generations. In fact, some issues are more challenging than before because organizations working to counter feminist achievements have improved their strategies.

Kamla Bhasin, a poet on the first panel delivered a wonderful speech via video. She said that even in [patriarchal] language, women are not equal. For example, many of the participants were surprised to learn that swami/suami, which are the two words in many languages for husband; means owner, lord and master, but it also means husband, the one who controls and domesticates. Bhasin pointed out, “We don’t even have words for an equal relationship for the man you [a woman] marries.”

Ofa Guttentbeil-Likiliki of Tonga spoke about how Tonga is one of the Asia Pacific countries that refused to ratify CEDAW. The church is one of the main opponents to the values of the CEDAW. Likiliki is often intimidated by those who oppose the work she does to eliminate violence against women and children. Her story is similar to those who fight for gender equality across the world.

To hear recordings from the plenary sessions visit the Asia Pacific NGO Forum on Beijing +15 website.

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