JAKARTA - The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap)
organized the second Asia and Pacific Ministerial Conference on Women and
Development, which brought together officials from over 50 countries in the
region. Hosted by the Indonesian government, the Conference was in two parts -
both equally important.
Senior officials had a five day meeting from
June 7-11 to discuss women's issues from a country perspective as they
deliberated on a regional plan of action.
This was to be followed, as
the Post went to press, with a ministerial meeting on June 13-14, where the
regional plan of action was to be adopted. This document will be submitted for
incorporation in the plan of action for the Fourth World Conference on Women to
be held in Beijing in September 1995.
More than seventy non-governmental
organizations, represented by approximately 150 women, also participated in the
Jakarta conference. Working just as hard as the government, NGOs lobbied to
ensure that the plan of action reflected the situation of women in the
For the plan of action to be acceptable by both sides, extreme
patience, understanding and a respect for procedure were required, and
recognition of the need to move forward together was a necessary prerequisite
for the success of the conference.
Many government delegates, of course,
preferred to highlight their positive activities and therefore glossed over the
real difficulties faced by their female citizens.
NGOs, on the other
hand, because of their working nature, understand and know better the real
situation of women, who they work closely with. Tension, therefore, existed
between government and NGOs because of their histories and their sets of
priorities in solving women's problems.
The Cambodian delegates are a
little unusual in the sense that when it comes to women's issues there exists a
near consensus between government and NGOs. Their work compliments each other.
One of the eight-strong Cambodian delegation Ms Koy Veth, director of
Khmer Women's Voice, observed that her view is not very different from the
A shortage of resources to implement their set of
priorities is holding back both the government and NGOs, she added.
According to Escap, the economic progress in the region during the last
decade has not opened up more opportunities for women to participate in
political, social, health and welfare activities. This is not surprising as the
growth was never concretely planned and consultation with women was at best
minimal, delegates said.
Education lies at the heart of this problem and
delegates from government and NGOs in Jakarta this week understood fully and
adopted this as their statement of critical concern: "Lack of literacy and basic
skills not merely precludes large sections of women from productive employment
opportunities, it affects the quality of life of women, as well as that of the
rest of the society in numerous ways.
"A significant number of studies
from all over the region have conclusively shown that female literacy is the
single most important factor in determining the success of family planning and
primary health care services ... women continue to constitute a lower percentage
of the student body, especially at the secondary and higher levels in almost all
countries of the region. They form an insignificantly small fraction of it in
most science and technology fields."
This statement echoed the view
expressed by Cambodian delegate Ms Ros Sivanna, who told the conference: "Girls
participation at school is still low. At primary level their participation is
around 45 percent. However, their retention rates after primary level fall
"Enrolment rates at lower secondary and upper secondary
dropped to around 35 percent and 25 percent respectively. At higher education
girl participation accounts for only about 10-15 percent or less."
Cambodia Country Report on Women in Development produced by the Secretariat of
State for Women's Affairs for the Jakarta Conference said: "Women have not
broken into technical fields. The Institute of Technology has very low women
participation rates. In the school year 1989-90 there were 716 students of whom
49 were women (6.8 percent). While the number of students in technical education
increased to 1,715 for the school year 1993-94, the number of women declined to
only 27, ie 1.5 per cent."
How to solve these problems?
The plan of action which was passed by the Jakarta Conference offered
several courses to be taken. Among others they are:
- All countries, especially those with high level of female illiteracy should
immediately set up national literacy missions and endow them with adequate
resources in order to attain elimination of adult female illiteracy.
- Measures should be taken to ensure wide dispersal of educational facilities
across geographical space at least up to the secondary level, so that access of
all women living in remote and rural areas is fostered.
- Women's induction in technical, scientific and other non-traditional fields
should be actively promoted.
- Gender studies should be promoted to ensure that gender perspective is
integrated into all levels of education and in all fields.
For Cambodia, the lack of resources and more importantly the lack of peace
are obstacles in implementing these courses of action.
As a Cambodian
delegate told the conference: "While women welcomed the introduction of
democracy and the opportunity to learn from their sisters of the region as the
country is opened up, we are saddened by the fact that peace has not yet been
fully achieved despite the United Nation's efforts."
She then went on to
describe the plight facing Cambodian women who are caught up in the war. The
hall full of nearly 500 men and women of the region listened
Boua Chantou is a technical consultant to the State
Secretariat for Women's Affairs. This article was written in a personal
capacity. Chantou has been writing about Cambodian women for many years.