Upholding human rights, gender equality key to accelerate development efforts, experts said.

Date: 12/02/2009

Many are unaware that various types of inequalities, poor health, stigma and discrimination that occur before their eyes are forms of denial of human rights, mostly afflicting mostly women, youth and marginalized groups. Promoting human rights and gender equality would help accelerate development efforts through improved wellbeing, increased productivity and equal opportunities for individuals. Culture serves an effective entry point to mainstream these values.

"We can eradicate poverty and attain the 2015 Millennium Development Goals by upholding human rights, including the right to health. 3 out of 8 MDG target goals, namely goal 3: women's empowerment and gender equality, sgoal 5: reduce maternal death and goal 4: reduce child mortality are directly linked to women's health," explained noted women's rights advocate Ms. Saparinah Sadli.

Former President Abdurrahman

Currently, maternal mortality ratio is 307/100,000 live births, the unmet need for contraception at 9%, Early marriage (girls aged 15 years old or younger) is still practiced, especially in the rural areas and around 10.4% of women aged 15-19 years began childbearing, and according to 2006 data, at least 2.27 million women fell victim to different types of gender-based violence, mostly in the privacy of their own home. These are forms of denial of human rights that still prevails in the community.

" Indonesia has already ratified a number of human rights instruments and is a signatory of international agreements. But law enforcement remains difficult," she added.

Ms. Sadli made the remarks during the launch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)'s 2008 State of World Population Report, titled Reaching Common Ground: Culture, Gender and Human Rights in Jakarta jointly organized by Fatayat NU. The report aims to increase cultural knowledge, awareness and engagement in efforts to promote development and human rights, especially the rights of women.

Former President Abdurrahman Wahid said that in mid 1970s, Fiqh experts in Nahdlatul Ulama (the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia) gathered to discuss about family planning not as a means to control population growth but more as a method to allow couples exercise their right to plan the pregnancy.

On gender equality, he deplored the fact that polygamy is still widely practiced by communities, including people who should give good examples on respect towards human rights, specifically women's rights to the public.

In Indonesia, news reports about government officials and religious leaders practicing polygamy have created public controversy. The most recent one is a wealthy businessman/cleric who took a 12-year-old girl as his second wife. His first wife, aged 26 years old, said she supported her husband's decision.

UNFPA Representative Dr. Zahidul Huque said that gender equality is part of human rights; and human rights is inherent in every individual, regardless of race, ethnic, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression. However, due to lack of public awareness and limited access to information, health care and supplies, women, girls, adolescents and marginalized groups are unable to exercise their right to information and health care; the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of their children; the right to be free of HIV/AIDS; the right to education; and equal treatment, which are among the many rights often neglected.

Some harmful practices and inequalities may stem from cultural values and women can play as defenders of such values believing they would protect their children and themselves. Culture itself is dynamic and adapts to the changing circumstances, making it an entry point to integrate rights and gender equality and women can be the agents to promote the adoption of these rights.

" When women can make decisions about their own health and body, are educated and have equal opportunities, they will improve the wellbeing of their families, their children and introduce new positive values that are previously taboo or sensitive to their families and communities," Dr. Huque said.

Women's right advocate, Ms. Musdah Mulia stressed the need for active involvement of religious leaders in raising public awareness by using community forums and simple language for effective information dissemination. "R eligious approaches are well accepted by Indonesian communities. We need to raise more often gender, human rights in gatherings, like Friday prayer," said the activist who was awarded with the International Women of Courage Award in 2007.

Reinterpretation of religious text is also important. "This way we can be contextual with the current circumstances especially on gender relation, women's position, reproductive health rights and humanity," Ms. Musdah added.