In Asia and the Pacific region, UN Women’s work focuses on achieving gender equality in democratic governance and on reducing feminized poverty and exclusion through the realization of women's human rights and human security. Particular emphasis lies on migrant women workers in the whole region, women's political participation in the Pacific, and human trafficking as well as HIV and AIDS in South East Asia and the Pacific.
In India, a UNIFEM (now UN Women)–sponsored workshop was the catalyst for change. In the southern city of Mysore, local residents used to trek five miles and wait two days to see a doctor at a private hospital. Since 2006, they have received medical treatment free of charge at the local government health centre, due to the work of Pushpavalli. She applied the skills acquired at a UNIFEM (now UN Women)–sponsored workshop on gender-responsive budgeting and convinced the authorities to allocate resources for the medical facility. The training attended by Pushpavalli is part of UNIFEM’s (now UN Women) work with governments and local organizations in four states of India to make elected representatives and civil servants aware of the benefits of including a gender perspective in budgets. In many cities, this has led to regular meetings between women, elected representatives and officials to ensure that women’s priorities are addressed in municipal budgets and plans.
In Indonesia, UNIFEM (now UN Women) supported the drafting of a local law on the protection of women migrant workers in the province of Blitar. The law and complementing decrees mandate significant protection for migrant women, including a protection fund to cover legal costs of discrimination and abuse cases faced by migrant women, and a provision to assign female doctors for medical check-ups to prevent sexual harassment. This law is being replicated in other districts of Indonesia.
In the Covenant of Ethical Conduct and Good Practices, recruitment agencies of nine Asian countries agreed on far-reaching business standards geared towards protecting women migrant workers. Financial exploitation and deliberate misinformation of migrant women workers through illegal recruiters lead not only to economic ruin, but also to physical and sexual abuse of countless women. Through the Covenant, which UNIFEM (now UN Women) helped develop, the recruitment agencies commit themselves to information campaigns for migrant workers and employers, to social security and insurance programmes that benefit migrant workers, and to the establishment of resource and welfare centres in labour-receiving countries.
In Nepal, UNIFEM (now UN Women) supported efforts to revise discriminatory provisions and pass a new law on foreign employment. Advocacy began in 2002, with a view to remove restrictions on women working abroad. A previous cabinet decision had prohibited women from seeking employment in Gulf countries. The 2007 Foreign Employment Act not only bans discrimination based on gender but also adopts special measures to guarantee women’s security and rights when seeking jobs abroad. Nepali women migrants now receive information about the contractual obligations of the employer and about migrant assistance centres in destination countries. The new law also contains provisions to regulate recruiting agencies and includes programmes for the families of migrant workers
Improving access to justice for Afghan women, in particular violence survivors, has been a focus of UNIFEM (now UN Women) efforts. Statistics indicate that in Afghanistan more than 87 percent of all women suffer from domestic abuse, making the country one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Since 2008, referral centres provide a safe haven and 24-hour legal advice for cases concerning elopement, divorce, domestic violence and land rights. Staffed and used solely by women, the centres were established by the Ministries of the Interior and Women’s Affairs, with support from UNIFEM (now UN Women), and plans are underway to extend them to all 34 Afghan provinces.
In Thailand, training of the judicial staff at the Thonburi Criminal Court has resulted in increased commitment to enforce the Domestic Violence Act, and rearrangement of courtrooms using partitions and cameras now protects the survivor from directly encountering the perpetrator.
UNIFEM (now UN Women) support for the Positive Women’s Network (PWN) in India has forged effective partnerships between the PWN, women’s groups, the National Commission for Women and the media. UNIFEM (now UN Women) and other partners facilitated and supported consultations with women’s organizations, HIV-positive women’s groups and government departments to draft a set of Gender and HIV Policy and Action Plan Guidelines for the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO).
UNIFEM (now UN Women) also worked with Indian Railways on an innovative outreach campaign for the 30,000 employees of its south-central branch, which is located in a region that NACO has identified as having a high HIV prevalence. The company is one of the world’s largest public sector employers and its workforce is highly susceptible to the virus because of its mobility. As a major component of the programme, trained peer counsellors circulated within the vast railway communities, offering gender-sensitive messages on HIV and AIDS prevention, care and treatment. A revolving fund also offered loans for essential expenses to women and families directly affected by HIV and AIDS. Funded and operated by Norway from 2003 to 2006, the programme is now run through the Women’s Empowerment and AIDS Prevention Society, which was set up to manage it, with support from UNIFEM (now UN Women) and the Railway staff benefit fund.
In Cambodia, UNIFEM (now UN Women) helped HIV-positive women create a network that now sends representatives to attend government policy sessions on HIV and AIDS, advise public health providers on how to make services accessible and friendly to women, and participate in the national programming deliberations for grants from the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. UNIFEM (now UN Women) and UNAIDS in Cambodia produced a report after undertaking assessments on the prevention of spousal transmission.
In Nepal, UNIFEM (now UN Women), in partnership with the National Commission for Women and local NGOs, boosted efforts that contributed to a historic 33-percent representation of women in the Constituent Assembly in 2008. With support from the German government, Nepal’s Making Politics Work with Women programme has supported capacity building of female and male members of the Constituent Assembly and continuous advocacy with various subcommittees for the inclusion of gender and women’s rights concerns within the draft Constitution.
In Timor-Leste, UNIFEM (now UN Women) supported the establishment of a Gender Resource Centre under the National Parliament, which will build awareness of parliamentarians on gender-related issues.
UNIFEM (now UN Women) has been working in Afghanistan since 2002, promoting gender-responsive security sector reform and supporting women political leaders in an effort to increase women’s influence in peacebuilding and improve their access to justice. As the presence of female police officers makes it easier for violence survivors to report their traumatic experiences, UNIFEM (now UN Women) supported successful advocacy that resulted in a new mandate for Afghanistan’s police forces to increase the employment of women within their ranks to 30 percent.
In Timor-Leste, the mandate of peacekeeping forces was strengthened to prevent systematic sexual violence and support women’s participation in peace consolidation, following the passing of UN Security Council resolution 1820 with technical input from UNIFEM (now UN Women).
UNIFEM (now UN Women) has been carrying out a CEDAW programme in Southeast Asia since 2004, facilitating the implementation of the Convention to advance women’s rights. The CEDAW Southeast Asia Programme (CEDAW SEAP) has focused on seven countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, The Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam and Timor-Leste. In Viet Nam, the Convention’s principles were mainstreamed into a Gender Equality Law in 2006. UNIFEM (now UN Women) supported key partners in the women’s movement to ensure that the 2007 Thai constitution included gender equality obligations in line with CEDAW.