Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region

insight 62


more articles...

A call for transparency and vigilance

Special election for Samar 2nd District may be called to choose a new House Representative

Indifference to disaster

The face of hunger

No change in the Church’s teaching on condoms

For the greed for money, corruption persists

Yellowing journalism

An invitation to a formal debate

Police torture video affirms police stations are 'torture chambers'

Freedom of religion under threat





Human rights in crisis

May 2, 2011

THE recent proliferation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is a most welcome development since they facilitate our life in society. With them, the requirements of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, so essential in society, are more finely met.

Subsidiarity is when a bigger entity can delegate some of its powers to a lower entity. It’s also when the smaller needs of men in society are met due to the presence of more intermediaries between the individual citizens and the over-all state authorities.

Solidarity is when society becomes more organized and moves more or less in the same direction without annulling legitimate differences and variety of sectors comprising it. It means having better working unity in society.

The NGOs are these agents and intermediaries that foster the need for subsidiarity and solidarity in a given society. We just have to make sure that a third social principle, that of the common good, is also met, so that the play of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity gets into the right groove.

This is the problem we often encounter these days with respect to the NGOs. Many of them, I’m afraid, are a cover to advance an agenda whose idea of common good is at best inadequate, often dangerous, if not utterly wrong.

The other day, someone told me that in a Congress hearing, a representative of an NGO was batting for sexual rights, saying that everyone has a “right to a satisfying and safe sex.”

While it’s true that we are a sexual being, and therefore sex has a legitimate part in our life, we just can’t be naïve when ideas like what was presented in that Congress hearing is proposed to us.

We need to see if indeed this “right to a satisfying and safe sex” truly corresponds to an objective common good meant for us. We have to know what that right involves, what its inspiration and true purpose are, etc.

We just cannot say anything is a human right based on an opinion or even on a consensus of some people. We cannot even consider a culture and civilization as the ultimate source of what is the authentic common good for us and what is not. They are not the ultimate terra firma. They shift too like sand, and can contain impurities.

The crux of our problem is that in determining our common good, any mention to God is immediately or, worse, automatically rejected. It’s as if God has no place in this discussion. It’s as if God is the very antithesis of democracy and its ways and processes.

At best, any reference to God has to be veiled, since making it explicit is considered a fallacy of begging the question. It is feared it would illegitimately stop further discussion or reasoning, which is not true, since such reference would in fact throw the doors open for further scrutiny. It fosters more discussion.

We need to make a drastic change in our attitude and ways of determining if a claimed human right is indeed part of our common good. We have to defer to what the Compendium of Social Doctrine says about the source of human rights.

In point 153, it says, “The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator.”

So, it’s clear that no matter how hard it is to determine what is God’s will and design for us, we just have to make an effort to know God’s will, since ignoring it would just put us in the dark, and lead us to unjust ways of determining what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, true and false.

In short, it would not be democratic, in fact, if our political ways would systematically shun the contribution of religion, or that our discussion of issues that affect our common good would exclude faith and religion, and everything involved there, like listening to the teachings of the Church, etc.

In that set-up, democracy would be understood as just a purely human affair, as if everything begins and ends with us. Of course, we are the primary actors in democracy, but we are nothing without God who is our source, our Creator, and in fact, also our end.

Democracy, without God, would lose its foundations and sense of purpose, and would just be driven not by truth nor by love, but by sheer and brazen human power. That’s when human rights enter the crisis zone.





Why I am against censorship

Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads – GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

April 25, 2011

As a community journalist, my orientation is anti-censorship.

Because I was blessed with editors during the Tita Cory post EDSA revolution era whose dyed-in-the-wool adherence to freedom of press and expression was at fever-pitch, I could not countenance censorship when it was my turn to rock the chair as editor-in-chief of two daily newspapers – Sun Star and Daily Informer – during the Erap and Gloria administrations.

Even if some of their motives and principles were suspect, I could never in heaven’s name mangle or touch with a ten-foot pole the write-ups of our columnists – the opinion makers and so-called “catalysts” of change.

An eager beaver but wet-behind-ears radioman who wanted to dabble in print media, a vegetarian but malnourished penpusher who belonged to the Dinosaur Age, a male celibate university professor hiding in a female moniker, a dentist who loved to lecture about sex education.

Law partner

A frustrated politician who wanted to write a column so he could expose the inanities of a former law firm partner, an ex-convict who wrote poetry inside the jail, an ex-Maoist Lothario who permanently turned his back from the movement after a “rest and recreation”, a debonair but Quijotic brain doctor who wanted to preserve our native dialects. You name ‘em, we had ‘em.

I am a firm of believer of John Stuart Mill who said that “Even when the opinion is wrong, discussion should not be suppressed. Without such challenge and discussion, the true opinion would become nothing more than dogma – something believed on mere faith.”

Because of this personal principle, I even nixed suggestions to delete horny and irrational Facebook friends because I believe they too have the right to exist and express their opinions however weird and downright corny and illogical their ideas may be.

One of the best stories I read about the subject matter was the opinion made by Alejandro Roces. Actually, it was Hilarion Henares who started the series by stating that censorship originally started not to exorcise sex and violence, but to control religious and political views.

Prohibited books

The initial and most powerful censorship board in all history was the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books that started in 1557 about a century after Gutenberg’s movable type made books available to the public. The books condemned then are now popular classics – the novels of such authors Victor Hugo, Balzac, Dumas and Flaubert.

They were not considered pornographic. They just did not meet the political norms of the period.

Authors were often forced to change the identity of the characters in their books. Boccacio’s The Decameron was banned because the characters involved in illicit sex were priests and nuns. When he changed it to plain ladies and gentlemen, his books were removed from the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

The very first film movie board censor was the British Board of Film Censors established in 1913 but still in operation to the day. In the United States, censorship was a state matter, but the Catholic Legion of Decency operated nationally.

Obscenity issues

Actually, the courts were deciding obscenity issues long before censorship came. As far back as 1868, Chief Justice Cockburn in a judgment in Regina vs. Hickins, said:

“The test of obscenity is this: whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.”

Pope Leo XIII in General Decrees Concerning the Prohibition and Censorship of Books, decreed: “Books which professedly treat of, narrate, or teach lewd or obscene subjects are prohibited. Care must be taken not only of faith but also of morals, which are easily corrupted by the reading of such books.”

And on March 31, 1930, the Code to Govern the Making of Motion and Talking Pictures by the Motion Picture Producers and Distribution of America, Inc. declared, “Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion is forbidden.”

This is the question that has become a major issue in our times. Where does artistic liberty end and where does obscenity begin?





Law, yes; legalism, no

March 29, 2011

A SIDELIGHT in the RH Bill issue that is gaining public interest is that ordinance of the Ayala Alabang Village that seeks to regulate the availability of contraceptive materials. It so happens that the same ordinance is now being copied by other barangays in Luzon, and so, the controversy thickens.

The brouhaha actually surfaces a more important aspect of life, and that is none other than the interplay between legality and morality, man’s laws and God’s laws. This is an area prone to a lot of problems.

For one, there is an emerging attitude of considering any reference to God in the making of our laws as completely out of place. How this mindset came to be is quite a mystery to me, since as far as I can see, the ultimate basis of our laws should be God’s laws.

Of course, we are now in some secularized and Godless world, and thus, we should not be all too surprised when we meet anomalies like this not only in the streets, but also in our lawmaking congresses worldwide. Some would ask, how would we ever know that such and such is the law of God?

So, some of our legal minds are held captive by what is known as legal positivism. That’s purely human law with God having no place in it. Unfortunately, in some so-called developed countries and among some of our bright minds, this narcissistic anomaly reigns supreme.

There are also people who may not openly profess atheism and agnosticism, but put God in brackets when they pursue their temporal affairs, like making laws and ordinances. They consider God a drag, a bother or an embarrassment in law-making. At best, they give him only some formalistic references, but no more.

This is actually a common problem. While we need to have law and a whole legal and judicial system to regulate our life in society, what we don’t need is legalism, or the distortion and abuse of our man-made legal system.

We are, of course, vulnerable to this predicament, since man’s intelligence and free will can take tortuous turns that in the end are determined by how our heart tilts – either toward God or is it just stuck with our own selves?

Apropos of this point is what St. Paul once said about freedom: “You have been called unto freedom. Only do not make freedom an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit, serve one another.” (Gal 5,13) St. Peter said something similar when he said we should not make freedom a cloak for malice. (cfr 1 Pt 2,16)

That's why Christ told us to be most faithful to his word. ¨"Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5,19)

When our freedom is not acknowledged as coming from God and therefore, for God, when it is not lived in charity for the others as God wants it, then we can make laws and ordinances that cater to our own ideas, and not anymore God’s, of who we are and of how we are supposed to behave, etc.

We can abuse our freedom and use it to pursue what we want, even to the point of disobeying God. This abuse of freedom and of the other gifts of God to us is rampant these days. That’s why we have many brilliant people entangled in their own web of conceit and pride.

In this RH Bill-related Ayala Alabang ordinance, for example, it is claimed that some sector of the Catholic Church is imposing their option on others, and therefore, unconstitutional.

How that conclusion was arrived at is again a mystery to me. I suppose we can look at things in different ways and through different lenses. If one is not clear about the intrinsic evil of contraception, not to mention abortion to which the RH Bill is bound to approve one day, if experience of other countries is to be considered, then anything that regulates or restrains the use of contraceptives would be viewed negatively.

Some so-called legal luminaries are questioning this ordinance when in fact other RH-related ordinances that favor contraceptives not only regulate and promote but rather impose the use of contraceptives.

In this RH Bill issue, we are not mainly concerned about the legalistic intricacies involved. We are more concerned about the morality of such bill.





State of preparedness

March 15, 2011

IT’S good that with the recent spate of calamities around the world, we are now talking seriously about how to achieve a state of preparedness. Many ideas have come out, obviously propelled by the best of intentions and supported by the best of technical details.

There’s just one thing that needs to be highlighted. In fact, it is the most important thing, since this aspect of preparedness is what integrates everything else and brings us over the inevitable things in this life and world to reach our final destination.

This is none other than our spiritual preparedness. Hardly anyone talks about this, I know, and it’s sad. And if ever it’s taken up, it most likely will be handled by a priest in a strictly religious environment or some weirdo who makes it a hobby to talk about the end of times.

This should not be so. I feel that everyone should be not only aware of this necessity, but should also do whatever he can to help the others attain this state of spiritual preparedness. In short, everyone should take care of his spiritual preparedness and should do all to make this concern widely discussed.

So far, the media have been quiet about this aspect of preparedness. They almost exclusively talk about technical and logistical items. That’s understandable. But in the end, we can only talk so much about these aspects. The state of spiritual preparedness should be the more mainstream concern among us.

No matter how exhaustive and scientific we are in the technical and logistical preparedness, we cannot avoid the disasters, the devastation and death itself that will surely come to us one way or another. We need something else that somehow will enable us to find meaning in these dark events and draw infinite good from them.

This is what spiritual preparedness does to us. It frees us from purely human fears and natural concerns, and gives us the confidence, based on truths of faith, that everything will be alright in spite of all the in spites of.

Our spiritual preparedness is what gives us the full picture of our life and destiny. We are no mere creatures of nature. We have been made in the image and likeness of God, elevated to be children of his in Christ.

Our spiritual preparedness takes us to a higher ground, giving us a glimpse of what is beyond our human horizons and natural limits. This is not to mention the corrections it will make to our inadequate if not erroneous understanding of our life here on earth.

It affords us an apocalyptic worldview, because it unveils and reveals, which is what apocalypse means, the true meaning and purpose of our life. In other words, with this kind of preparedness, anything can happen in the world, and we can still manage to come out safe and sound, in the ultimate sense of the words.

We have to make a race to reach this kind of preparedness, since, truth to tell, we are far behind the relevant passing grade. We seem not only to be in the primitive, stone age still in this regard, but also to dig in further in our ignorance, confusion and error.

In fact, there are instances when we seem to be taking the wrong path insofar as the spiritual preparedness is concerned. The other day, for example, I learned that US President Obama dared to brand the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

He is extending his defiance to basic natural moral law, that is, to God’s law about us. He is pitting our man-made legal system with the God-given moral law. This is courting God´s wrath.

This kind of event, for sure, has an effect on the over-all status of mankind. God is all merciful, but his goodness does not preclude the demands of justice and the possibility of divine retribution to correct, if not also penalize, our wrongdoings, especially the ones committed in massive scale.

We need to go back to God! We have to stop taking on a purely human itinerary in our life, since that will get us nowhere but much graver disasters and devastations than what apocalyptic movements in the earth, seas and skies can inflict.

When these natural disasters come, let’s not only try to know their natural causes. We need to go all the way to asking what message God tries to convey through them. These calamities and disasters have in the end a religious meaning. They are not purely natural occurrences. They are meant to occasion conversion.





ASIA: Unabated violence against women impedes social change

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the International Women's Day
March 8, 2011

For 100 years now, a strong struggle for equal rights between genders has been taking place in the world. International women's day is the opportunity to celebrate women's economic, political and social achievements. It is the day to acknowledge the enormous potential of women in service of the prosperity of their communities and the core societal role they have to play for peace and political and economic development in their countries. Having educated and empowered women actively participating in every sphere of the public life of their country has for long been acknowledged as the key to development and prosperity in all the countries of the world. Discrimination against women has been formally recognized as a violation of human dignity and as riding roughshod over the concept that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. Nevertheless, in numerous corners of the Asian region, direct and indirect violence and discrimination, under various forms continue to oppress women and prevent them from fully achieving their potential for change. Through 2010 and since the beginning of 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission has been aware of numerous cases of such oppression. The diversity of Asia clearly illustrates that the formal recognition of equal rights without discrimination based on gender and criminalization of gender-based violence has failed to materialize in practice. Violence against women is sometimes justified through the evocation of tradition and religion and is exploiting the weak rule of law framework of numerous Asian countries to the advantage of the male-dominated society. It is used to control the behaviour of women, prevent them from freely taking part in public debate and continuously undermines the expression of women's potential for change in Asia.

The Global Gender Gap Index of 2010 offered a clear overview of the disparities which exists in the Asian region with regard to the country level of advancement in terms of equality of rights and opportunities between genders. The Philippines and Sri Lanka rank respectively as 9th and 16th out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality, mostly due to the achievements of those two countries in reducing the gender-gap in education and health while Pakistan ranks the third worst country in the world in terms of gender equality. Thailand ranks 57th globally but ranks among the best countries in terms of maternal health and 36th in terms of economic opportunity for the women, with women representing the majority (51%) of the non-agricultural labour force, a rarity in the Asian context. The gender situation in Bangladesh and Indonesia is less optimistic: ranking respectively as 82th and 87th. The scores of both countries are increased only by the fact that they have women as their head of State, but their scores in terms of economic empowerment, access to education and health are very low. Closing this ranking are India (112th), Nepal (114th) and Pakistan (132th) with extremely important discrepancies between genders in all spheres of life.

In a number of Asian countries patriarchal cultural and religious traditions are invoked to systematically control women's lives, their free will and even their bodies and hamper the full realization of their potential. In India, discrimination rooted in gender prejudices that foster stereotypical roles for the girl child and women is one of the reasons for the poor state of affairs of women. The concept of purity and submission superimposed upon women by cultural and religious practices, restrict their access to education and limits their freedom to choose the employment of their choice. The continuing practice of demanding and paying dowry, though prohibited by the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 limits the parents' interest to educate a girl child.

Another example is the common practice in some communities in Pakistan that at the time of birth of a girl, she is declared engaged to be married to a boy which will prevent the 'engaged' girl from freely choosing her future as her fate is sealed from the day of her birth.

Similarly, honour killings remain a strong issue in South Asia. The women being seen as carrying the honour of the family can be murdered if a family or the community considers that she is following a path different to what was expected of her. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women die each year in honour killings worldwide. However, the actual number is likely to be much higher as the cases largely go unreported.

Another example of religion or tradition being invoked by the community to control the lives of the women was seen in a case reported in August 2010 from Sri Lanka. A husband was forced by community members of the local mosque to sign a document agreeing to the punishment of his 17-year-old wife for having given birth to a child as a result of an extra-marital relationship. The woman, who was sick, was then beaten 100 times with the hard centre stem of a coconut frond.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women expressed its concern in February 2011 that "despite the High Court's decision that the extra-judicial punishments, fatwas, are illegal, there are reports of illegal penalties being enforced through shalish rulings to punish "anti-social and immoral behaviour". In January 2011, a 14-year-old girl was "lashed to death" following a punishment given by a village court consisting of elders and clerics under the Shari'ah law, after being accused of having an affair with a married man.

In some countries the "traditions" invoked to maintain the women in a state of oppression benefit from the support of the authorities, like in Pakistan, or are even reflected in the legal framework like in Aceh where some of the criminal laws are based on the misinterpretation of the Shari'ah. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch "Policing morality" on the law related to "seclusion" which makes association with a unmarried member of the opposite sex a criminal offense punishable by caning and a fine and to public dress requirement, two of the five Shari'ah laws in Aceh, revealed that these laws are abusively implemented by the authorities and document cases of aggressive interrogation, including beating of the suspects, forcing the suspects to marry and forcing women and girls to submit to virginity examinations as part of the investigation.

The Jirga courts in Pakistan oppress women's rights and, though illegal, are tolerated or even supported by the authorities. Jirgas deny the equality between women and men, apply corporal or capital punishments upon women whose behaviour is seen as deviating from traditional standards and lack standards of fair trial. In July 2010, a woman was condemned to stoning to death by a Jirga merely for having been seen as walking alone with a man. In May 2010, a young couple was marked for death by a Jirga that included police officers because the woman had denied a suitor selected by her family in favour of her husband, who came from outside of the tribe. Despite an eventual Sindh High Court ruling in favour of the couple, community members and police continued to persecute the couple and the groom's family. Legal and social complicity results in near impunity for those who continue to abide by the Jirga rather than law and perpetrates honour killings. The government has not been seen to take any sort of action to pronounce the Jirgas' ruling as illegal and to dismantle them by taking action against the individuals engaged in running them.

Those cultural and religious representations remain strong obstacles in the way of women who want to take an active part in the future of their communities. Even in countries which are trying to achieve a 33% representation of women in the Parliament, such target remains very hard to reach; Nepal being the only Asian country to have achieved that goal so far. Women seeking emancipation are the target of those who want to maintain the patriarchal order of the society and see female emancipation as a direct threat to their own power and social status.

Acid attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan against women who dare to say "no" to a marriage or a relationship are a case in point. Threats and harassment against women human rights defenders in Nepal further show the society resistance to those seen as challenging the established social order.

In some countries, women are considered as simple chattel that can be exchanged to maintain the relationship between families; to settle conflicts or a commodity that can, more simply, be sold. In February 2011, the AHRC documented a case of marriage which was opposed by the 70-year-old father of the bride in Pakistan. As "compensation" for the marriage and the loss of his daughter, the father demanded the barter of a girl from the groom's family.

In South Asia, cases of dowry disputes and dowry deaths also reveal the value placed upon a woman's life. These are cases where the groom's family claims that they had not received enough material benefits to accept the woman into the family. Those claims may result in assault, mental and physical harassment of the bride, and ultimately, in her killing.

Further, Asia continues to suffer from a massive phenomenon of trafficking in women. In many cases the authorities cooperate with trafficking rings and brothels were women are kept, effectively imprisoned for sex work. Due to the irregular immigration of trafficked women, the victims often have no legal status in the country where they are trafficked to and risk detention should they try to escape or lodge a complaint with the local authorities. In Thailand, sex workers are particularly at risk of exploitation and stigmatisation with cases of arrest and humiliation commonly reported, while rape cases of women sex workers are not properly dealt with.

All the cases mentioned above clearly show a pattern that, although the attitude of state actors is primordial in dealing with cases of violence against women, the functioning of law enforcement agencies in practice reflects the patriarchal values of the society and further contribute to oppress the women. The systematic failures of the criminal justice systems have been exploited by perpetrators to deny justice and protection to the victims of gender-based violence and to maintain the women in a situation of vulnerability. For instance, in almost all the countries in Asia, authorities at all levels of the judicial system have denied assistance and justice to rape victims and protected the perpetrators, resulting in a de facto "decriminalisation of rape". Victims of rape and gender-based violence seeking legal redress face harassment, threats from the authorities and community members and often the courage required to confront such obstacles to get justice is only rewarded with impunity for the perpetrators. This starts from the moment the victim makes the complaint of rape. In almost all of Asia there are incidents of police officers refusing to accept the complaint, forcing the victim to negotiate a settlement with the perpetrators or in specific countries even to marry the perpetrators.

Collusion between the perpetrators of rape and police officers is common. Further, the social stigma surrounding rape and women filing cases in the police station and economic dependency of women are the most important of all obstacles hampering the women's access to redress.

In a case in Nepal last July, the police took the rape victim in custody twice at the demand of the perpetrators which resulted in having all the physical traces of rape disappear. In Sri Lanka, in January 2011, the family of a 23-year-old physically and mentally disabled rape victim was forced by the police to accept monetary compensation from the perpetrator as a settlement for the case. In Pakistan, in December 2010, a woman was raped by a local gangster with the help of two police informers and was forced by the police to withdraw her complaint. In India, women face additional risks at the hands of law enforcement officers than their male counterparts due to the risk of sexual harassment and even custodial rape. In a case reported on 1 February this year, once again from Assam state, the police officers assaulted and sexually abused a woman and her mother when the officers came to their house in search of a male suspect. In this case too, the police have refused to register a case against the accused despite written complaints.

These cases, from different corners of Asia, illustrate that protecting the right of women is intrinsically linked to the state of rule of law in the country, in particular to a sensitisation of the police and to the introduction of accountability within the ranks of law enforcement agencies.

All over Asia, the situation of women belonging to communities which are traditionally marginalized and discriminated against deserves a special mention as those women will be exploited at several levels with even less access to judiciary and state institutions than women belonging to the dominant majority in the country.

In India and Nepal for instance, women belonging to the Dalit or tribal communities are more vulnerable to rape as their lives and dignity are seen as less valuable and they have less access to judicial institutions. Nepal has also recently seen an increase in cases of isolated women, often widows and often from the Dalit community, being trashed, violently beaten, tortured and forced to eat human excreta after being accused of "witchcraft" by villagers. The Women's Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) has documented 82 such cases within two years. In Pakistan, women from religious minorities are targeted, abducted and forcibly married to convert them to Islam. It is estimated that 20 to 25 Hindu girls are abducted each month and forcibly converted to Islam. In March 2010, the family of a 17-year-old Hindu girl who was kidnapped by three influential Muslim brothers and raped by one of them, was pressured into accepting her wedding to her rapist and her conversion to Islam by a jirga. Judicial and police inaction went as far as arresting the victim's father under a fake case and intense pressure from ruling party members and local landlords prevented the family from seeking further assistance.

The targeting of women from marginalized castes or classes or religious and ethnic minorities is not an aimless and insignificant act; on the contrary it has calculated implications and impact. Raping or abusing the women aims at not only destroying the victim but also, through her, the community. Rape and violence against women has become an instrument of power in the hands of the dominant majority. The victimization of women from marginalized castes or classes contributes to the maintenance of power and the domination of "upper" classes or castes while the victimization of women from minorities, religious or ethnic, aims at destroying the whole structure of that community, integrating them into the "mainstream" majority through the destruction of their identity. This aspect is particularly evident in the case of Burma, where women from ethnic minorities are the target of systematic, state-induced campaigns of rape and other forms of sexual abuses by soldiers in order to "spread the blood" of the ethnic majority and to humiliate and oppress. "Licence to Rape", a June 2002 report by the Shan Women's Action Network documented 173 cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence, with 625 Shan girls and women victimized by Burmese soldiers from 1996 to 2001 and showed that rape was condoned as a weapon of war from the Burmese state in order to subjugate and control ethnic minorities. Documentation by women's groups shows that such cases of rape; torture and killings of women continue unabated in other areas of ethnic conflict.

More generally speaking, women in areas of conflict suffer from specific abuses and often find themselves deprived of any legal remedy; in the South of Thailand, women are facing unrest and loss but have not been provided any kind of remedies. The Victim Protection Scheme is inappropriately implemented, which deprives the victims seeking justice with any kind of remedy. In Nepal, during the decade-long conflict, the women faced gender-based violence and sexual violence but such victims have remained invisible and absent of the government relief programmes and compensation schemes for conflict victims, a joint report by Advocacy Forum and the International Center for Transitional Justice found.

Gender bias is also visible in larger issues like poverty and malnutrition. For instance, in South Asia and South-East Asia, in both urban and rural poverty, often the direct victim of poverty and malnutrition is the women and/or the girl child. In most cases reported by the AHRC, the pattern shows that it is the mother and the girl child which face the worst brunt of poverty.

Women therefore suffer from multi-layered, multi-facetted discrimination and forms of violence in Asia. The malfunctioning of the rule of law framework is exploited by those who want to prevent women from playing a major role in the public sphere.

Nevertheless, throughout Asia, women continue to gather, organise and defend their rights and the rights of their community. The fight of those thousands of anonymous women not only contributes to the promotion of the "rights of women" but also to the advancement of democracy in their community as a whole.

In countries where reservations were made to ensure the representation of women in elected bodies, especially at the local level, women have been able to make use of such arenas to raise concrete issues of tremendous importance for the community, such as access to water.

In Nepal, women have played a tremendously important role in the popular uprising of 2006 which lead to the end of the conflict and the establishment of democracy in the country. Similarly in India, it is a woman, Ms. Iron Chanu Sharmila of Manipur, who has today become the beacon of hope and peace. Sharmila has undergone a ten-year-long fast in protest against the ongoing violence and impunity in India, committed both by the state and non-state actors. The state attempted to stifle her protest by keeping Sharmila in arbitrary and solitary detention in a hospital room for the past ten years in which she is force fed through a nasal tube. In Burma, it is also the fight of a woman, Aung San Suu Kyi that has become the incarnation of the hopes for peace, human rights and democracy of the people. In Sri Lanka, women activists and lawyers are taking a great role in the fight against torture and support to the victims. In Pakistan, it is a woman parliamentarian who had the courage to deposit a law in the Parliament seeking to amend the Blasphemy law under which religious minorities face persecutions.

On Women International Day, the AHRC calls for comprehensive action, from all forces of the society, to create the conditions for women to fully express their potential for better change.



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