Women activists decry sexual violence in Asean
We, the women’s groups from Asean countries including Timor Leste, are raising our voices on the unabated rise of sexual violence against women and girls in the region.
As 2017 marks the 50th year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), we ask: What is there to celebrate when sexual violence persists with impunity in Southeast Asia over 50 years?
Cases of sexual violence have risen on different fronts in six countries — or a majority of the Asean states — amid the pressing political climate in the region, according to the Weaving Women’s Voices in Southeast Asia (WEAVE) network in its report “Coming out of the dark: Pursuing access to justice in
cases of sexual violence against girls in Asean.” These include Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.
To quote Jelen Paclarin of WEAVE, it is as if sexual violence is being made invisible in Asean. Authoritarianism among Asean governments is rising, the culture of impunity and misogyny are intensifying, making access to justice more and more elusive. This is especially true for cases of sexual violence against women and girls.
We also see how politics exploits women, using their sexuality to silence them. Thida Khus from Silaka-Cambodia has cited the case of a Cambodian woman accused of having a sexual affair with an opposition party leader.
The government called the representatives of human rights groups who assisted in the questioning, and accused them of bribing the witness to lie in court. Five of them were later imprisoned for over a year.
Gang-rape cases are also rising in Indonesia. The most recent case involved a 13-year-old girl who was raped by 20 men in Bengkulu. Though the case stirred public anger, some
still saw rape as a moral or private issue that should not be made public. Rape is a crime against humanity, not a morality issue.
We want to break this silence, we want access to justice for all cases of sexual violence not only in Indonesia, but in the whole of Asean.
The Asean Community Vision 2025 seeks to create a more integrated region, where Southeast Asian people are free to move or work.
This continues to expose women to risks of sexual violence in trafficking and migration. Thailand continues to be a transit country, and is both a sending and receiving country, yet migrant women, especially domestic workers, ethnic minority, indigenous women, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and women and girls with disabilities remain unprotected and vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence. According to the Annual Judicial Statistics Thailand 2016, 5,462 women and girls faced challenges in justice processes.
In conflict-laden Myanmar, women and girls suffer sexual violence. Military offensives and human right violations, including rape, torture and enforced disappearance of women in ethnic areas are continuing with impunity.
The Women’s League of Burma and the Kachin Women Association Thailand have documented more than 100 cases of military rape
in Kachin and the Northern Shan State since 2011. One of the serious cases happened in January 2015, when two Kachin teachers
were raped and killed by Burmese military soldiers in Kaung-Kha village in Northern Shan. Women and communities continue to suffer atrocities as a result of Burmese military cleansing of ethnic people amid national ceasefire talks. Power is still concentrated in the military, according to representatives from the Kachin Women Association Thailand and the Women’s League of Burma.
The politically sensitive issue about the Rohingya is still not addressed. Recent accounts point to sexual violence experienced by Rohingya women and girls, yet Asean leaders continue to turn a blind eye on the issue.
The WEAVE network calls on Asean heads of state to:
• Make sexual violence and access to justice of women and girl-children part of the central agenda of the grouping
• Condemn sexual violence in a statement or outcome documents
• Take strong action to ensure that the region is free from any form of sexual violence.
—Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau
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