Spotlight on a Member: ARI

Interview with Prameswari Puspa Dewi, National Coordinator of Aliansi Independen Remaja (ARI), a youth-run organization based in Indonesia, and APA member.  ARI collaborated with APA in the production of the Indonesia country policy brief “Advancing Sexual Rights Through the Sustainable Development Goals."   

ARI has also just collaborated with partners in the production of a shadow report for Indonesia’s review through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.  The Shadow Report’s message is education can shapes culture, hence legislation, therefore building strong state protection for young people and diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. 

The report looks like a clear success for championing Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), how do you feel?

 Since the beginning of 2016, young people in Indonesia  have felt worried about our future. Conservative groups are growing stronger and stronger now. So ARI, as a representative of young people, got involved in writing this UPR shadow report together with our partners.

I feel really satisfied with the results of what we wrote.  We worked in collaboration and strengthened youth-adult partnership within our alliance.  As this was the first time to engage with the UPR, it was a challenge, especially to find the right language when writing the report.

How was ARI selected to shadow report?

At first we were not familiar with the UPR or who usually wrote shadow reports, but ARI got involved in an alliance called One Vision Alliance and was invited to contribute to the UPR report from a youth rights perspective.

Why did ARI choose to engage with this process of working on UPR Shadow Report?

  • The UPR process can help us with national advocacy, such as advocacy with the Ministry of Education to ensure they include CSE in the national curriculum.  We can assure them that education really helps young people and protects us.
  • It is a unique opportunity and a learning process for young people to develop writing skills for “serious” reporting, which we can utilize in the future.
  • We strengthened our network within the alliance, as a youth-led organization that possesses the skills as youth advocates. Sometimes, young people are still looked on as a complement, rather than the main actors for advocacy.

What are the advantages of the UPR Shadow reporting process?

As young people, and a volunteer-based organization, we learnt a lot from the many experts that shared their knowledge. For instance, we learnt that we should have a security system in place when we are advocating on sensitive issues in Indonesia such as sexuality.

Are there any lessons learned from the process that they could share with others?

We learnt that it’s really important to document any events that harm/support our issues and always follow up on the event. Previously, when events have happened we have protested, but lost the “moment” for documentation and follow up.

CSE was mentioned a lot in the report, but the position of the teachers seems to be stagnant (i.e. the teachers are generally not interested in teaching the CSE). This is not new for young activist globally. Culturally there are adverse feelings about sexuality education, how does ARI envision meaningful changes to the educational environment and the attitude of the teaching staff?

We would like teaching staff to be more youth friendly and sensitive to diversity, not only as a teacher but the entire education system needs to be improved. Teachers need to be our allies, to be involved and ensure that young people in schools can get comprehensive and accurate education about sexuality. Similarly, we need to engage with the Ministry of Education so that they take the decision to have CSE integrated in our curriculum.

Meaningful change for us is about how the education environment can ensure behaviour changes on young people’s SRHR.  

Currently our partners, Rutgers WPF Indonesia and IPPA, are trying to test CSE in schools from kindergarten onwards.

What’s the public’s opinion of CSE for young people?

There is still some stigma regarding CSE, that the word ‘sexuality’ isn’t appropriate for teaching. On the other hand, after many cases of sexual abuse, rape, and other forms of violence, communities are beginning to agree that young people and children need reproductive health subjects.

Based your shadow report, and the news reports such as this one from the TIMES. Is there a particular piece of legislation that you would like to see the state work on immediately?

We want legislators to focus on making gender equality legislation, and protection for access to sexual and reproductive health services and CSE for young people. But I think we need to work harder now with the current political situation.

How open is the President and the parliamentarians to the changes of the SRHR community? Do you think you have more official allies that those who are against the provision of these rights?

After the backlash against LGBT since the beginning of 2016, many negative statements have come from parliamentarians and ministries. Psychiatrists also made statements which make life more difficult for LGBT people.  And this is the updated news from our country.

Let’s grade the Government! A B C D and F- Fail for the different categories below:

  • Education (CSE)  C
  • Legislation (to protect youth SRHR and sexual diversity)  D
  • Political Will (to make changes happen)  C
  • Cultural and Religious willingness (to dialogue and compromise)  D
  • Government Investment (Is the budget looking favorable for SRHR)?  C

What are the next steps for ARI and what do you expect the response to be from the state?

Our next step is to collaborate with our partners and alliances to increase awareness within society about SRHR. We want the voices from society and young people to be heard by government through our advocacy. We expect the government to be supportive and more progressive after hearing about the needs of young people.


The World is Watching You 

This blog was originally published as part of a series organized by the Action for Sustainable Development platform, for the occasion of the global High Level Political Forum in July 2016, at the UN in New York.

Governments from around the world are discussing how to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be truly transformative. One of the key tenets to this comprehensive, far-reaching and people-centred global agenda is ‘accountability’ for the commitments – a word long avoided by many Member States. True accountability embodies the human rights principles of participation, equality and non-discrimination.

Civil Society is crucial to building accountability

The role of civil society is crucial to building accountability and in the achievement of Agenda 2030. Civil society has transformative power and proven positive effects on development towards building peaceful and prosperous societies. Civil society plays a vital role in reaching out to, and defending the human rights of marginalised groups such as sex workers, people of diverse sexualities and gender orientations, migrants and others, and must be seen as enablers in helping governments achieve their promise of “reaching the furthest behind first”.

But, at a time when civil society engagement and participation is most needed, civil society is experiencing increasing pressure, reduced funding, and shrinking space. The recently passed UN Human Rights Council resolution on the protection of civil society space recognises the deepening challenges facing civil society globally, emphasizing the need for an enabling environment. A new essay published by Civicus identifies the specific threats faced by women human rights defenders, in particular, due to the nature of their work which includes challenging norms relating to reproductive rights, sexuality, freedom of expression, or the right to dress a certain way.

Regional Spaces for mobilization and cooperation

Civil society needs safe space to mobilize and generate new ideas. Regional platforms can provide space for activists to support the work that is being done at national level, and to jointly strategise based on sharing of successes, gaps and challenges. For example, at a recent South East Asia and the Pacific regional caucus “SDGS and the Fulfillment of Sexual Rights for Women and Girls” civil society activists shared priorities for accountability to SDGS and ensuring that vulnerable groups are not excluded, pinpointing key recommendations for the HLPF. This shows how working together on through different platforms can have key results.

Another regional space where civil society engagement must be promoted and supported are the regional inter-governmental review processes. In Asia Pacific, a Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism is gaining momentum as the primary interface for engagement with the ESCAP and governments in the fulfillment of Agenda 2030. Yet, at the Forum on Sustainable Development in April 2016, civil society were marginalized and their presence and contributions challenged.

Addressing the Gaps in Agenda 2030

While Agenda 2030 is unprecedented in its ambition, there are still gaps in Agenda 2030; civil society will need to be strategic about ensuring the fulfillment of certain rights. For example, for the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) community, sexual rights are notably absent. However aspects of sexual rights can be clearly linked to specific targets, for instance:

  • target 4.7 (gender sensitive and human rights based education) could encompass comprehensive sexuality education;
  • target 10.3 (reduce inequalities, including through law and policy reform and implementation) could be used to advance the rights of sex workers, LGBTI persons and others; and
  • target 16.1 (reduce violence and related deaths) could embrace include the reduction of sexual and gender-based violence, including violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

Collaboration is key

Although Agenda 2030 offers a renewed opportunity to ensure the fulfilment of human rights and achieve sustainable development, it’s success is contingent on the commitment of governments to support the building of vibrant and tolerant societies, and the will and support for civil society to collectively sustain the momentum to be heard and recognised.

Agenda 2030 in Asia Pacific: the long (and bumpy) road ahead

In September 2015, Member States in Asia and the Pacific and across the globe adopted Agenda 2030 - an actionable fifteen-year plan to end poverty and achieve sustainable development.  With 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets that span across the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, the SDGs represent a significant step for global efforts for ending poverty, because they apply to ALL countries in the world, unlike the MDGs, which were limited to developing nations.

For the SRHR world, Agenda 2030 offers a renewed opportunity to advocate for fulfillment of the rights that have been hard fought for since countries agreed to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA).   The SDGs include Goal 3 on good health and wellbeing and Goal 5 on gender equality include targets that are directly related to SRHR, including on ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, eliminating child, early and forced marriage, reducing maternal mortality, and ending AIDS. Several other targets in the Agenda highlight the cross cutting issues between SRHR and sustainable development.   

Despite the gains, the agenda is missing a critical component - SR in the SRHR - sexual rights.  Sexual rights encompass a wide range of entitlements, such as the right to take free and informed decisions over sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity free from coercion, discrimination and violence, universal access to comprehensive sexuality education, and decriminalization of safe abortion.

 At the regional level, these rights have been recognized to a greater degree than the global. The 2013 Asian Pacific Declaration on Population and Development, the outcome of a negotiated Asia Pacific intergovernmental process at ESCAP, recognizes many of the sexual rights issues mentioned above as relevant to our region, including for example, eliminating discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (84), the essential need for comprehensive sexuality education (59) and access to safe abortion under criteria permitted by law (110).

The question that remains is how will we make sure that these commitments become a reality?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines a systematic follow up and review framework that is ‘robust, voluntary, effective, participatory, transparent and integrated’ (para 72) This comes along with the promise of a ‘people-centred, gender-sensitive approach, that will respect human rights’ and a focus on the poorest, and most marginalized.  

The Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) took place last month in Bangkok. The main vehicle for regional follow-up and review, the APFSD holds promise as a platform to drive forward regional progress, unhampered by the divisive politics at the global level, to identify regional challenges, mobilize action, and exchange good practices and learning from neighboring states. 

 However, member states have been tentative about committing to a robust follow-up and review process at the regional level, and the regional roadmap that was released does not provide any concrete milestones for SDGs in Asia Pacific.  Members States did not reach a conclusion on setting regional priorities for Agenda 2030 implementation, and a 'wait and see' approach’ was taken on on form, function and modalities of the APFSD, to be guided by the outcomes from the High Level Political Forum this July.  Civil society presence and contributions were even challenged, despite Agenda 2030 clearly outlining the criticality of inclusiveness and civil society engagement with this agenda.

The road ahead is going to be bumpy for civil society 

 Right now, Member States in New York are debating a draft resolution on the Follow-up and Review for the 2030 Agenda released by the the Co-facilitators last week.  The Resolution clarifies the process, which will take place under the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). So far, the draft falls far short of the transparent, participatory and robust process that is the framework of true accountability, and the institutionalization of civil society engagement and contributions.    

 The HLPF will be the annual centre-stage for countries to display political leadership, showcase country experiences, and track progress and trends in the implementation of this ambitious agenda. And this July, we will hear from the first four countries in Asia and the Pacific that have volunteered to undergo national review since the Agenda was endorsed: China, Philippines, Republic of Korea and Samoa.

 Putting civil society in the driver's seat

 Civil society has a significant role to play in ensuring accountability for Agenda 2030 commitments related to SRHR.  Civil society will need to actively engage and seek out advocacy spaces with governments as they nationalize the Agenda, to ensure that SRHR issues are prioritized and that the process are inclusive and transparent.  Once Agenda 2030 has been translated into national plans and policies, it is imperative that civil society strategically track  commitments, including financial commitments, to identify gaps and obstacles to progress. 

 Of critical importance to this step are those targets which touch upon sexual rights issues, as the biggest gap in the Agenda.  These include, for example, target 4.7 education on human rights and gender equality and target 10.3 on the elimination of discriminatory laws, policies and practices.  APA has undertaken a pilot scoping exercise which identifies some of the gaps in the region based on recommendations of states through the Universal Periodic Review Process, you can read more about it here. 

 One key action for CSOs is to ensure the inclusion of the targets and indicators related to SRHR, including those that are cross cutting, in country reports and sharing of good practices at both national and regional level.

In Asia Pacific, the APFSD will play a central role in the accountability chain, and SRHR organizations must coordinate and collaborate across sustainable development partners to advocate for active and meaningful participation of civil society in these meetings - for instance through the Regional Civil Society Mechanism [RCEM], the body that acts as a CSO interface with ESCAP.  At the same time, there are other regional fora which will remain important spaces to  advocate with governments on their commitments to SRHR and link to the SDGs, such at the next Asian Pacific Population Conference which takes place in 2018.

 Finally, civil society could also engage with other sub-regional bodies, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which will likely  develop their own SDG monitoring processes. These different regional forums present additional opportunities for to hold national governments accountable for their commitments, and for their obligations to uphold human rights as they relate to SRHR. 

 This blog is being posted shortly after it has emerged that a group of 51 countries have blocked 11 MSM and transgender organizations from attending the UNAIDS High Level Meeting in New York this June.  This only underscores the urgent and critical need for civil society to engage and advocate for accountability and inclusiveness. 



The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is 25 November, and the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence - a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

Women in the Asia Pacific region experience various forms of gender based violence and their voices are often unheard.  One form of gender-based violence is child and early forced marriage.  In 2010 half of all child marriages globally took place in Asia, and in South Asia, 46% of girls marry or enter into union before age 18 .   In Papua New Guinea, violence has reached endemic levels, and work is urgently needed to protect and empower women and girls.

12th APA Conference: CSO Statement

Promoting Accountability and Addressing Inequalities: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights & Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific 

Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (APA) and partners 

 We, the undersigned organizations, representing civil society organizations that gathered at the 12th APA Conference on 15 - 16 October 2014 in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, are calling for stronger accountability for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all in achieving sustainable development.

Economic growth has lifted millions of people out of poverty in Asia and the Pacific, however the region still is home to over two-thirds of the world’s poorest populations. Specific challenges are holding back progress, including growing inequality both between and within countries, the unequal allocation of resources by donors and the lack of fulfilment of people’s SRHR.  Sexual and reproductive health problems take a huge toll on lives, families, societies and economies – and public budgets – yet they are preventable.  Added to this, SRHR have high payoffs for poverty eradication, social, economic and sustainable development, and for equality and equity, because they can improve women’s health, education, and economic productivity, the key elements of human capital for eradicating poverty and sustaining economic growth and development.

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