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What ‘Public Morality’? Women’s Groups Ask

“Morality is very subjective, that it has often been used to curtail even the basic human rights of women and girls. On many occasions, morality is defined based on the dominant political and religious groups as well as dominant cultures that are harmful to women and girls,” Rena Herdiyani, a member of the Southeast Asia Women’s Caucus on ASEAN and Kalyanamitra in Indonesia. 

Based on the consultation that ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) with selected civil society organizations, it appears that “public morality” is still being considered as a limitation of human rights. Although the term is mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), “public morality” has never been defined in international human rights standards.

In its recent submission to AICHR, the Women’s Caucus explained, “‘Morality’ can also render certain gender identities transgressive, especially for sexual minorities. It can also deflect attention from seeing sexual violence, for example as a crime against person, rather than honor.” The submission is available in http://womenscaucusonasean.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/addendum-final.pdf

“The AHRD must go beyond the UDHR and add value to existing international human rights standards. ASEAN must set the bar higher for the AHRD, drawing from its own experience of human rights violations,” Thida Khus of Silaka, a women’s network in Cambodia pointed out.

Internationally known feminist human rights and legal experts such as United Nations former Special Rapporteur Yakin Erturk, one of the first drafters of CEDAW Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani (Philippines), past and present CEDAW Committee members Sjamsiah Ahmad (Indonesia),  Shanthi Dairiam (Malaysia), Saisuree Chutikul (Thailand), Anama Tan (Singapore), Heisoo Chin (South Korea) and Milena Pires (Timor Leste) earlier asked AICHR to take into account the gains made by women’s movements.

In a statement, they said, “The AHRD must not shy away from the important gains and struggles of women’s movements around discrimination, the rights to bodily integrity, sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, rights in marriage and family life and freedom of movement and citizenship, especially in a region that is marked by migration, whose dangerous consequences and difficult circumstances have been borne by women and girls.” The statement which is also getting the support of more than 300 individuals and organizations can be found here: http://www.change.org/petitions/asean-intergovernmental-commission-on-human-rights-aichr-women-s-human-rights-are-asean-women-s-human-rights

“As an ASEAN woman, I cannot stand apathetic without supporting the plight of fellow [ASEAN] women,” said Ofelia Sy from Philippines, one of the 379 signatories. Meanwhile, Sachumi Mayoe, Thailand asserted, “We are women, we are sex workers and we are part of the ASEAN community. We want to participate in the development of ASEAN women’s human rights for all women of ASEAN.”

The tightly-guarded AHRD draft is now with the ASEAN foreign ministers for review. Despite calls for the public release of the draft and a series of public consultations, AICHR expects the draft to be approved by November 2012 in time for the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Cambodia: Thida Khus, thida_khus@silaka.org, +85512838464
Indonesia: Rena Herdiyani, rena_herdiyani@yahoo.com, +628129820147
Thailand/ Secretariat: Nina Somera, nina@apwld.org, +66811621073 (for interviews with resource persons)

The original article can also be found here: http://womenscaucusonasean.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/media-release-strike-out-public-morality-from-the-ahrd-draft-sea-women-urge-aichr/

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