Mon, 13 Jun 1994

SOM ends with Jakarta Declaration

JAKARTA (JP): The Asian Pacific senior official meeting (SOM) on the role of women in development ended here Saturday with the approval of a draft plan of action for the region and declaration for the advancement of women.

A prelude to the Second Asian Pacific Ministerial Conference on Women in Development, which is to be opened by President Soeharto here this morning, the meeting glossed over sharp differences among the delegates representing 54 countries during the drawing up of the two documents.

The drafts of the Jakarta Declaration and Plan of Action, which are to become regional blueprints to guide governmental efforts for the development of women over the next decade, will be deliberated in the two-day ministerial conference.

The five-day senior official meeting, attended by some 500 people, was a lesson in compromise, some participants said.

Meanwhile, conference sources told The Jakarta Post that country delegates who took part in the closed sessions of the drafting committee, chaired by Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan of the Philippines, were involved in heated debates over several sensitive issues.

Sjamsiah Achmad, chief of the Indonesian delegation who chaired the SOM, cited the problems of prostitution and casualties of armed conflicts as being among the issues with political and security overtones which provoked strong debate.

Differences over religious and traditional values put forward by participants also added the controversy, she said.

The delegates from France, for instance, reportedly quibbled over co-education system with Iranians who pressed for the inclusion of a recommendation on separate schools for girls.

Migrant workers

A male delegate from Japan voiced his objection to a discussion of systematic rape, within an article on the protection of women's rights in the Plan. He thought that this article alluded to his country, specifically concerning "comfort women" who were forced into sex slavery rings run by Japanese soldiers in many Asian countries during the World War II.

The delegate reportedly said that it was no longer relevant to look into the past. His statement caused furious objections from the South Korean, Filipino, Bangladesh, Pakistani, and Malaysian delegates.

The problem of migrant, women workers also invoked lively debate, especially between the more-developed "receiving" countries such as Malaysia and the poorer "sending" countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

It was mentioned, however, that the delegates were "...not here to settle political disputes or security affairs, so eventually delegates just had to agree to disagree," Sjamsiah said.

On the sideline of the meeting, activists of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who were invited as observers, and dozens of local and foreign women's groups, lobbied delegates and tried to get their opinions included in the documents.

Freedom of sexual orientation, and the call for redefinition of cultural and religious norms on women's role in society were among the issues they pursued.

Some of their proposals were incorporated into the final draft, although in a manner not quite up to their expectations.

"No matter how the outcome of the meeting is, it can't satisfy everybody," commented Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, a prominent Indonesian lawyer and NGO leader.

"The formulations of the plan and declaration are too generalized in nature," she said. "We wanted a more detailed plan, but we understood it would be difficult."

Sjamsiah, whose effective leadership during the event was commended by many delegates, played down the NGOs' dissatisfaction.

"This is a governmental, as well as UN-sponsored, conference," she said. "We need to advance from mere condemnation and fault- finding, and establish workable concepts."

Conference sources said 31 ministers and other high-ranking officials will attend the ministerial conference, which is sponsored by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has sent Gertrude Mongela, his special envoy, to address the conference.

The results of the ministerial conference will be submitted as the Asia Pacific recommendation to the World Conference on Women in Beijing, in September 1995. (swe/anr)