Recap: Asia-Pacific Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting

This Re-cap of the Asia-Pacific Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting is by Romy Listo from Equality Rights Alliance

Romy Listo 3small 1
Romy Listo

Romy Listo is the Project Coordinator at Equality Rights Alliance. She has an advocacy and practice background in sexuality education, including as a former member of ERA’s Young Women’s Advisory Group.

Romy is also a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, where her research explores how women are collectively organising around energy access in the global South, and the impact on gendered empowerment.

22-28 November 2019

Last week in Bangkok, an important meeting on gender equality took place among governments in the Asia-Pacific region. Hosted by UN Women and UNESCAP, the meeting was attended by government representatives and observed by women’s and feminist organisations from across Asia, the Pacific and Oceania.


Firstly, a bit of background…

The Asia-Pacific Beijing+25 Ministerial Meeting is one of several gender equality negotiations taking place in regions across the world at the end of this year in the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 2020. The outcome document negotiated in Bangkok will influence the next global declaration on women’s rights made at the 25th Anniversary of Beijing next year.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is the internationally agreed agenda and UN policy position on furthering gender equality and women’s rights. It was negotiated and agreed to by UN member countries at the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, in 1995. Although the Beijing Platform is becoming outdated in parts, but it is still by far the most progressive international policy agenda for women’s rights and gender equality that we have.

In the last ten years, there has been little substantial progress made on this agenda at the yearly negotiations to advance the document at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The focus for civil society advocates and more progressive governments has become about ‘holding the line’, or not losing ground gained in the Beijing Platform. Sexual and reproductive health rights, LGBTIQ+ sexualities and identities, climate change and the role and space for civil society and feminist groups in such global processes have become contentious issues and negotiation stalemates.

Historically, the Bangkok Regional Review meetings have provided more space for civil society than other forums. The negotiations are opened to the observation of and so are accountable to, civil society, women’s organisations and feminist groups; the annual negotiations at the CSW in New York are closed and so much harder to scrutinise.

Why is it important?


The UN space, the Commission on the Status of Women and the negotiations around the Beijing Platform for Action are where global norms about what gender equality means and what it looks like in practice are made. The language that is agreed in these discussions sets precedents and expectations for countries to work toward in progressing gender equality. When new ideas about gender equality, such as specific rights of indigenous women or women with disabilities, are included, the norms, standards and expectation for gender equality moves forward at a government-level.

As civil society advocates, we play a role in lobbying our governments, and those of others, to include particular issues or ideas that are part of the progressive discussions we are having on the ground.  

Multilateral institutions like the UN are often described as ‘normative’ themselves. This means that they function and exist purely on the good will of member states and because member states agree that they do, and without any enforcement.

What happened?

There were 3 events in total. Two were civil society-only spaces (a Young Feminist Forum and the Civil Society Forum), and these were followed by the Intergovernmental Meeting which included the negotiations between states on an outcome document.

The Young Feminist Forum was a day two event, and mostly consisted of working group conversations on the 12 Critical Areas of the Beijing Platform  as well as other issues facing young women in the region. The major discussion points included trade and development justice, climate change and LGBTIQ+ issues, and it was interesting to see that there was a shared language for LGBTIQ+ identities and shared challenges across the Asia-Pacific. The outcome of the Young Feminist Forum was a statement which I’ve attached for this email in case you’re interested in what young women have identified as their shared issues through the region.  

The YFF was immediately followed by the Civil Society Forum, which was three days of panels, parallel sessions and conversations organised around the framework of Hope (Day 1), Anger (Day 2) and Action (Day 3). The topics covered included women’s leadership, progress since Beijing in 1995, sexual and reproductive health rights, violence against women and how to do intersectionality, among others. There was an incredibly powerful network of disability justice activists present, who platformed the issues of women with disability and advocated for their full inclusion throughout the forum.


Equality Rights Alliance coordinated a panel in collaboration with three Indian organisations (SWATI, Nazariya Queer Feminist Resource Centre, and Nirantar), on intergenerational feminism. Our panellists were our own Carole Shaw, Nidhi Goyal (a young disability justice activist from Rising Flame in India), Lean Deleon (a young development justice and women’s rights activist from the Women’s Major Group), (Vica Larasati, a young LGBTIQ+ activist from Indonesia), and Rukmini Rao (a distinguished activist from the Gramya Resource Centre in India, which works with rural Indian women on land rights and violence, amongst other issues). The discussion was incredibly interesting and challenged us to think beyond binaries in our thinking, including younger and older, but also ability and disability, and binaries of gender.

A rapporteur from each session recorded key discussion points and recommendations, and these were collated for a Civil Society Declaration (which is still being finalised), and a Civil Society Statement read at the opening of the Intergovernmental Meeting by Vica. It was an exhausting but also energising five days connecting with other advocates and activists from across the region, hearing shared pain and struggles, making friends and connections, sharing dinners and swims at the hotel pool, and then coming up with concrete recommendations for government action.

A rapporteur from each session recorded key discussion points and recommendations, and these were collated for a Civil Society Declaration (which is still being finalised), and a Civil Society Statement read at the opening of the Intergovernmental Meeting by Vica. It was an exhausting but also energising five days connecting with other advocates and activists from across the region, hearing shared pain and struggles, making friends and connections, sharing dinners and swims at the hotel pool, and then coming up with concrete recommendations for government action.

… And then we went into the three day Intergovernmental Meeting. During the CSO Forum, we were alerted to a quiet decision to close negotiations and exclude observers, and which hadn’t been communicated to civil society or the forum organisers. Immediately the committee leading the civil society forum mobilised to put enough pressure on key decision-makers within governments and the UN to reopen the negotiations. However, there was only space in the small negotiating room for this committee, or about 20 people in total, while the other 300 advocates were excluded from the process.


Members of and those assisting the Civil Society Steering Committee were able to watch some of the negotiations and see the geopolitics play out in the room. We saw a pushback against mentions of girls and girls’ rights in the document from Russia as well as a rollback of references to sexual and reproductive health rights from the US and other conservative countries. The US, Russia, France and the UK all participated in the negotiations because of their colonial histories in the region, and key negotiators were Australia, New Zealand, Russia, the US and France. The Philippines and Fiji were also strong voices, and strong advocates for a more progressive agenda. The Australian delegation led by Catherine Hawkins from the Office for Women worked incredibly hard to defend every challenge to a progressive position of women’s rights and gender equality. In particular, Catherine did an amazing job pushing through a paragraph on recognising the important role played by civil society, including women human rights defenders, youth organisations, women’s organisations and feminist groups. It was excellent to see that the Australian delegation also included three delegates from civil society: Dorinda Cox, Maria Dimopoulos and Florence Drummond.  

Alongside the closed negotiations, there was a main plenary hall where countries made statements outlining their progress and action on gender equality. Australia’s statement outlined the government priorities on women, and the Alliances got a mention. The main plenary then turned to statements on four key themes: decent work, violence against women, gender-responsive institutions, climate change. On each of these theme, civil society made a short intervention of one minute. There was also a program of events held by UN agencies.

The meeting was great opportunity to get a sense of Australia’s role in the region and the geopolitics and countries holding back progress on gender equality at the normative, international level. At the closing plenary when the Outcome Document was to be officially adopted, the US voted against it because of a reference to ‘reproductive rights’, which they oppose. This was a huge disappointment (although not surprising), because it weakens the document (which is more meaningful if agreed by consensus, and can then be used as a base for future negotiations) and the international system itself, which is based solely on the goodwill and voluntary participation of countries. Civil society organisations were given a space for a closing statement, and staged a protest at their exclusion from the negotiation space.


What now?

The Outcome Document from the conference will help to shape the global declaration from CSW64 which will be negotiated next year, along with similar documents from other regions. International mobilisation around Beijing+25 will continue into CSW64 and the Generation Equality forums which are being held in Mexico City in May, and Paris in July 2020. In the lead up, the Australian Beijing+25 NGO Caucus will continue to meet and strategise in the lead up. The Australian government delegation had a very positive and productive relationship with civil society in the lead up to Bangkok, and we hope we can continue to leverage this relationship to progress key issues in the international.

Australia was and is, a strong advocate on progressive positions on gender equality, particularly on the role of civil society, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health rights. In our domestic capacity, we can try to use these positions and reputation, along with the agreements in the outcome document to pressure and hold the government accountable to their policy-making in these areas, and in submissions. 

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