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“To discuss the knowledge and status of women today, it is important to know what they have gained and how,” [Kumari Jayawardena] said. It was in that spirit that a group of feminists from the region decided to meet in Colombo in early March. They may have got their timing just right, convening barely days before COVID-19 brought South Asia, like much of the rest of the world, to a halt.

The reason that the feminist scholars and activists gathered at a seminar, supported by UN Women, was to brainstorm and come up with a declaration. Their inputs will feed into deliberations at a forum in Mexico scheduled later this summer, to mark 25 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), which called for global action for ‘Equality, Development and Peace’.

The participants at the Colombo seminar were from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. They represented different generations of women’s movements in the Global South and at times, very different perspectives too.

Read the full article on The Hindu.

Click here to access the full text of the Colombo Declaration, an excerpt of which is below:

Whereas on the occasion of our coming together, recognizing the realities that face us, we, feminists of South Asia, gathered in Colombo on March 5 and 6, 2020, hereby pledge to:

  1. Unite across all religions, genders, ethnicities, classes, castes and all forms of identity, while recognizing our differences, to fight for the equality and freedom of all people in South Asia to live a life of dignity and respect, free from discrimination;
  2. Respect and celebrate the diversity of our peoples, recognizing that many intra-community struggles need to be waged to ensure the equality of women, but where political, legal and administrative systems must enable and strengthen a recognition and acceptance of this diversity;
  3. Create regional and international networks of women in solidarity to contest and challenge the growing tide of majoritarianism, religious extremism, authoritarianism and a climate of fear in our region;
  4. Condemn in the strongest terms wanton and brutal communal, caste and sectarian violence against women, minorities, indigenous peoples, and vulnerable communities as well as the weaponisation of the “riot” as a means of control.
  5. Hold states accountable for the torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing of individuals and prisoners, and for the impunity that is granted and sometimes attaches to all those who commit such acts.
  6. Resist the militarization and securitisation of our states, and expose the disproportionate use of force (in accordance with international humanitarian law) by the military, as well as the military take-over of civilian administration and economic enterprises;
  7. Support local and regional struggles to strengthen legal and judicial processes by protecting and amending Constitutions as necessary, pushing for progressive legislation and ensuring that the judiciary and independent commissions are given full protection. We also urge that all the countries of South Asia have functional independent commissions on women as a step towards securing women’s rights;
  8. Work with women lawyers, human rights defenders and their networks to fight impunity, to ensure that rule of law processes truly result in justice, to highlight the need for judicial accountability, to especially support victims of injustice and discrimination and to supplement such legal action with political and social campaigns. Protecting human rights defenders, insisting on gender-just laws and, where necessary, gender-neutral laws must also be an essential part of this work;
  9. Recognize the importance of waging feminist struggles not purely from a law and order perspective but from a human rights framework and to recognize intersectionality, including intersections of nationality, race, religion, ethnicity, disability and ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, class and caste;
  10. Strengthen communities affected by global and national policies resulting in gross inequalities by insisting on a more egalitarian economic and social order, the provision of basic services, and by challenging systems and practices of discrimination and exploitation;
  11. Recognize the damage that has already been done to the natural environment and to work with national and global climate justice activists, indigenous peoples and all affected communities to adopt laws, policies, programmes and systems of accountability to ensure the survival of the planet and the promise owed to succeeding generations;
  12. Encourage women activists and technology communities to use their digital platforms for progressive causes, and to support their work on digital rights, fight for the protection of our data and against hate-speech and hate communities;
  13. Prioritize community concerns and support women – with their informed consent – to be a part of decision-making that affects their lives;
  14. Reclaim the “international community” as global networks fighting for the rights of individuals and peoples, leading to the transformation of existing international institutions and practices to make them more inclusive and participatory;
  15. Work towards recreating value for a rules-based international system, with the expectation that feminist movements everywhere will take a lead in making this happen;
  16. Ensure that the fight against “violent extremism” does not result in draconian measures, arbitrary security-force activities, and mass incarceration. Platforms on counter-terrorism and bilateral and multilateral support for military establishments must be founded on the principles of human rights.
  17. Ensure that the concerns of the women of the Global South, our call for justice, the need for forward-looking plans for economic independence and recovery, as well as women’s participation in the decision-making processes in prevention, protection, peacemaking and peace-building, are represented in international relations and global security agendas;
  18. Enable and support women artists and writers in their creative work to reclaim memory, represent women’s histories, and transcend boundaries, and ensure that education in structural spaces such as schools, museums and galleries, be expanded to include informal extra curricular activities in the form of plays, storytelling, video-making, and varied art activities;
  19. Celebrate the many past and continuing achievements of women’s movements, and invest in the multi-generational harnessing of collective power on platforms where activists across levels of experience can connect, organize and transform, building upon existing knowledge and momentum;
  20. Reiterate and struggle at all levels for the foundational values of feminist movements, movements which have for over two centuries challenged systems of hierarchy and fought for freedom, equality, respect for all, and the dignity of persons.