Kathmandu: The Asia Pacific People’s Power Convention, a two-day meeting of social movement leaders and civil society organizations from the region recently concluded in Kathmandu, Nepal. This was organized by ActionAid Nepal, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke i.e. ActionAid Denmark and ActionAid Association (India), all independent organizations and part of the global federation ActionAid International, which has been raising the voices against injustice across the globe since 1972.
Held on 4th and 5th December 2023 in Kathmandu the Asia Pacific People’s Power Convention discussed about social justice, achievements made against discrimination based on caste, class and gender and the challenges raised by global climate change. Activists from Nepal, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia are participating the convention.
In the inaugural ceremony, Sujeeta Mathema, Executive Director for ActionAid Nepal, talked about different social movements across the globe and stressed the power of diversity. She added that through discussions, achievements, and challenges faced by various countries, positive changes and people’s role in the social transformation would bring enlightenment for new thoughts and ideas.
In the first session of the program, Krishni Devi Tharu, former Deputy Mayor of Lumbini province shared her experience as part of the struggles against the Kamiaya and Kamalari systems, which are traditional bonded labour systems that was prevalent in western Terai region of Nepal. She appreciated the role played by ActionAid Nepal in the struggle against bonded labour system. She stressed that despite various struggles by Kamaiya and Kamalaris, there is still need to complete the rehabilitation process of people who were and in some cases are still in precarious conditions.
Shri Manoj Bhatta, Member Secretary, Social Welfare Council, Nepal shared that to achieve the common human development goals across all countries of the world including least developed countries we need to ensure funds flow to the Global South, especially in the context of climate change and historical impact of colonialism and unequal terms of exchange.
The Honorable Chairperson of National Dalit Commission, Devraj Bishwokarma, chairperson, also shared his own experiences of discrimination faced and shared the experiences of Dalit communities across the country.
Later in the day, Timothy Whyte, Secretary General, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke | ActionAid Denmark spoke about the learning he received from his working with the anti-bonded labour movement in Nepal a few decades ago, that development work as important as it is has its limitations, and how wide spread changes needs the energy and power of social movements.
Dipali Sharma, Director Organizational Effectiveness and Programmes, ActionAid Association (India), spoke about the significance of organizing this meeting in the Global South and in the Asia Pacific Region is particular. She spoke about the need the address the issues of women’s subjugation and the end of patriarchy and resolving the crisis in urban areas and rural areas and the way in which social movements can build sustainable futures for all.
The second day of the Asia Pacific People’s Power Convention focused on the panel discussion, in which moderators and panelists from different countries shared their experiences of struggles, challenges and achievements on women’s rights, labour rights, land rights, refugee issues, and also pointed out the necessity for more to achieve.
The first panel discussion on Listening to Social Movements: Women’s Agency, Autonomy and Empowerment focused on women’s rights, freedom and empowerment, where representatives from different countries shared the status of women in their respective countries.
Ms. Sari Wijaya, National Chairperson, the Indonesian Youth Struggle Front, Indonesia shared that women in her country are struggling with child marriage, unequal education system, sexual violence, and abuse. Women in work force is comparatively low and 48% of women become mothers before completing their college degrees. Due to lack of proper infrastructure, women are not able to reach and return from workplaces safely, resulting in increasing violence against women. Bhagwati Adhikari, Executive Director, Sangat, NMES, Nepal pointed out that women’s own agencies and organizations are able to ensure women’s rights and instead of only focusing on women’s empowerment, now is the time to discuss further regarding women’s relations with the society and achieve equality through equity.
Heera Jangpangi, women’s rights activist from India shared that violence against women begins within their houses and laws related to women are weak in implementation. She also pointed out that ethnic groups are unaware about their rights and shared that though 80% of working women in India are engaged in agriculture, not a single woman has been identified as a “farmer”. Judy Pasimio, coordinator Lilak and women’s rights advocate revealed that women from the Philippines are facing more challenging situations as the country went through the civil war and tyrannical rule, which highly affected the growth and development of women. She stressed that Philippines is witnessing widespread abuse of human rights, and the restriction of women from their liberation.
The session concluded that women in Asia Pacific Region are still facing discrimination and facing struggles, resulting in their marginalization in own societies.
The second session, Listening to Social Movements: Reclaiming Commons: Land, Forest, Water and Natural Resources, focused on the access of common people in their own resources and found common challenges across the region. Clarissa Mendoza, Social Justice Campaign, Philippines shared that the revolution has ensured identification and ownership of farmer’s land and even programs focusing on the farmers. She added that despite the fact that ethnic groups’ land has been recognized, the country’s economic policies are weaker which now has been transformed into a huge political question on sustainable agriculture. Ramesh Sharma, Ekta Parishad, India, pointed out that land issues and challenges have been developed as unfinished business in the Asia region and continuous struggles such as by the homeless in Bangladesh, climate refugees in Cambodia, landless households in India. Landlessness of ethnic groups have been increasing rapidly across the region. In the Asia Region women own next to no land, with only a few countries having women’s land ownership in double digits. Sinchai Rupaojeen, Vice-President, P-Move, Thailand shared that all land of the ethnic groups has been confiscated by the government and few capitalists capture majority of the land. In Thailand, land of ethnic groups have been confiscated and declared as “Protected Areas” and different cases have been filed against families of those ethnic groups in the name of protection of eenvironment. Jagat Deuja, Executive Director, Community Self-reliance Centre, Nepal shared that with 21% of land under protection and 44% land covered by forests, and with fewer land in access and more political and financial brokers Nepal has been facing challenges in the implementation of policies related to land. The discussion concluded that the Land should be owned by those who work on it.
On the session, focusing on Emerging Challenges on refugee and displacement across the Asia Pacific Region, Santanu Barthakur an advocate from India defined the people without ownership to land as refugees and since the partition of India in 1947, and birth of Bangladesh in 1971, the issue of refugee started which continued and increased due to lack of proper law and policies. Dirgha Taj Sigdel, from ActionAid Myanmar, shared that the country is responsible to displacement of more than two million of its citizens since the army coup. While the displaced Myanmar citizens are denied their own land, they are perceived as threat in the hosting countries. Manju Gurung, from Paurkahi, Nepal shared that though there are no Nepalese refugees, the migrants from Nepal for different reasons are in higher numbers and their challenges need to be discussed more.
In the session on Changing Contours of the World of Work, Smritee Lama, GEFONT, Nepal shared that situation of laborers have grown better than before in Nepal, and the Government has linked the informal laborers to social security scheme. She added that formal sectors have been increasing the number of non-formal sector workers in their work force resulting that those sub-contracts to create new challenges for the workers. She added that youth have been leaving the country for work resulting in labour deficit and brain-drain for the country. At the end she shared that though migrant workers in other countries are not able to form any trade unions, the Trade Union is unionizing the workers. Kanyarat Tumpama from the Northern Farmers’ Network, Thailand shared that small farmers in the country have been facing lots of challenges due to ongoing conflict and have lost access to their ancestral land. While people in rural areas are becoming victims of climate change, the government has been shifting the blame on them. Arif Siddiki, ActionAid Nepal shared that despite the growing economy in Bangladesh, the informal sector workers are extremely dominated. Due to complex law, the laborers are unable to raise their voices and despite the tagline of Digital Bangladesh, minority of the population have access to internet. He continued that women laborers face more challenges due to traditional harmful practices and misconceptions. Gagandeep from Dalit Dasta Virodhi Andolan, India also shared the challenges of laborers in India, where bonded labour widely exists till the date. She continued that after the Green Revolution, people are forced into labor with fixed period of buying and selling of labour still exists and the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the challenges being intensified. Laborers in India are still forced to work for the landlords to payback the loans taken through generations. While the discussion dwelled on the changing aspects of labor, the convention discussed on the possibility of learning from each other and building solidarity across borders.
After the review of crucial issues over the course of two days, the participants of the convention pledged to continue discussions to see how they could work together to build popular momentums in their countries and work together to build a hub for social movements across the Asia Pacific Region, and reach out to other countries and regions of the Global South, and oppressed people across the world to build sustainable futures for all based on the values of social and ecological justice.