Asia Pacific NGO Consultation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women
Friday, September 22, 2006 11:32 AM

20 September 2006.  35 women from 22 countries around the region, including Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, India, Iran, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, Russia, gathered in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on 11 -12 September to dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (UNSRVAW), Dr Yakin Erturk, on the topic of “Culture and Violence Against Women in Asia Pacific”.

 The focus of this year’s Consultation on “Culture and VAW” responded to the theme of the elected topic of the UNSRVAW’s next annual report to the Human Rights Council (2007).   It also reflected APWLD’s own articulation of ‘culture’ as a critical issue necessary to deepen our understanding and approach to women’s human rights and in addressing violence against women in the Asia Pacific region.

 The Consultation provided an opportunity for women’s groups from the Asia Pacific region to inform the Special Rapporteur of the critical issues relating to Culture and VAW in the region as well as inform the Special Rapporteur’s articulation of the scope of women’s rights based on the local and national experiences of women in Asia Pacific. Specifically it aimed to understand and articulate how despite the fluidity and contestability of cultural norms, oppressive elements of culture (which invariable reflect and reinforce patriarchal power relations) gain dominant representation. The Consultation sought to strategise how a women’s human rights agenda can be advanced in this context, providing effective strategies for both the women’s movement in Asia Pacific and for the UNSRVAW for inclusion in her recommendations for States and other actors.

 The first day of the Consultation aimed to map the inter-linkages between culture and violations of women’s human rights in Asia Pacific.  It began by shaping a more nuanced understanding of culture distinguishing culture from religion and understanding culture as a system of assigned meanings which are dynamic and fluid. The discussions stressed the importance of going beyond identifying bad cultural practices and instead trying to understand culture as a whole. Culture is about structures of power. It has been used a political tool and therefore as a tool for exclusion, and for a process of ‘othering’. One of the main challenges we face is to not start identifying bad and good parts of culture but reframe the way we talk about culture to reflect the roles of women as the movers and shapers of culture. Different ways of reframing and reformulating the discourse on culture should include: not falling into the trap of essentialising culture but rather recognising its fluidity and diversity; not  dichotomizing group rights and individual rights but instead recognizing that individual rights are necessary in establishing rules and ordering  within collectives; recognising women as the agents of culture and challengers of patriarchy rather than victims of culture; further, we need to create a third space for women outside of this dichotomy (binary).

 The discussions also stressed the importance of remembering and addressing the consequences of carrying this out. As we challenge our cultures from within (as women human right defenders) we face serious risks, including the risk of silencing. The responsibility of the movement includes building a solidarity network.

 The second day of the Consultation focused on strategies for addressing harmful cultural paradigms through engaging with international, state and non-state actors as well as through adopting strategies/approaches within own organisations and movements. The discussions built on the understandings/approaches which emerged from the first day particularly for the support for the on-going efforts of women themselves to “negotiate their identities” within their cultures and communities.  Some specific presentations were given of strategies to address culture and violence against women through law, through community engagement and through engaging with community, particularly traditional leaders of communities.  This was followed by a session aimed at articulating strategies/recommendations for the UN Special Rapporteur’s report, for our organisations and for the movement.

 A comprehensive report of the Consultation is currently being prepared and will be available on 1 November 2006.

 The Consultation was organised by Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) in collaboration with National Centre Against Violence Mongolia (NCAV).

For further information please contact Lisa Pusey at

Published at Women's UN Report Network news,; report from APWLD,