NEW YORK (May 6, 2013)– Interview with Tess Vistro, Focal Point of the Climate Change and Gender Justice Program for the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)

WEDO: Please describe your organization’s work and main goals, as well as your specific role in the organization.

Tess: APWLD started and developed from dialogues among Asia Pacific women, when women who became part of these dialogues recognized that, while law is used as an instrument of state control over resources, rights and even women’s bodies, it can also be used to effect political and socio-economic changes in our societies; and further, that for change to happen, women must be mobilized to understand the social, economic and political dimensions of  women’s oppression, take collective action and have a clearly focused and strong organization.

Twenty five years since its inception, APWLD developed as Asia Pacific’s leading feminist, membership driven network, with 180 members representing organizations and groups of diverse women from 25 countries in the region. APWLD uses capacity development, research, advocacy and activism to claim women’s human rights as enshrined in human rights instruments and to empower women and their movements in the region to claim equality, justice, peace and sustainable and inclusive development.

Overarching objectives for the next five years include: 1) to build and strengthen feminist movements at local, national and regional levels, particularly  of the most marginalized, 2) amplify the influence and voice of Asia Pacific women in global and regional policy making bodies, 3) facilitate the production of evidence based research and tools for advocacy outcomes and movement building, 4) build the capacity of women’s rights organizations and activists using rights based perspectives and interrogating the intersection of patriarchy, globalization, fundamentalism and militarization

I am the focal person of one of the programs of APWLD: the Gender and Climate Change Program. As FP of the programme, I work with the program officer and the APWLD secretariat which is based in Thailand in ensuring that the workplan of the program based on the strategic plan is implemented, outputs and outcomes are achieved and objectives are met.

I am based in the Philippines and I am the national coordinator of Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, a mass organization of women farmers and a federation of rural women’s organizations in the Philippines. Amihan was established on October, 1986 as a response to the need to organize rural women and develop their strength for collective action in addressing issues of marginalization and discrimination, poverty and landlessness.

Amihan has members and chapters in the three major islands of the country, and runs programs educating and building organizations of rural women, launching campaigns for government recognition and respect for rural women’s rights to the land and other basic livelihood resources, against agricultural trade liberalization- particularly the unabated dumping of agricultural crops into the country, against continued use of hazardous chemicals in farming which pose health risks to women’s reproductive health, and against militarization of rural communities.

It runs poverty alleviation and food security enhancement, maternal and family health and sustainable development programs in the rural communities organized. It promotes and campaigns for the preservation of biodiversity by encouraging the production of traditional and organic vegetables and fruits, women communal farms and nurseries for the propagation of traditional species, campaigns against seeds and products with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and advocacy for a gender responsive climate change mitigation and adaptation mechanisms.


WEDO: In your/ APWLD’s experience, do you have any examples of how women’s rights advocates can/should leverage international legal frameworks and policies to support national and local level change?

Tess: One important niche of APWLD is its engagement with mandate holders in the UN Human Rights Council.

The engagements of APWLD members in the Philippines with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial  and summary executions, exposed the deteriorating state of human rights in the country to the international community, that eventually put pressure to the Philippine government to leash its security forces and put a stop to more human rights violations.

APWLD’s consultations with Special procedures mandate holders resulted in amendments of national laws and policies in many countries in the region.

In Indonesia, on recommendation of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (SRVAW), women’s organizations lobbied for the enactment and passage of the Domestic Violence Act of 2004.

In Thailand, as a result of the consultation with the SRVAW, the Ministry of Women Affairs pushed for the passage of a law that criminalized marital rape in 2007.

The consultations with SRVAW in Indonesia since 1998 paved the way for the establishment of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), which remains a vital institutions to this day to address VAW as a form of discrimination against women.

APWLD and Philippine members created a platform between CSOs and parliamentarians around sustainable development and the Rio+20 outcomes


WEDO: What prompted APWLD to become involved in sustainable development issues, particularly international climate change policy?

Tess: Our work on sustainable development started  at the earth summit in Rio in 1992 and has since then become a part of our framework of understanding, discourse and articulation of  women’s issues particularly the rural and indigenous women in the region.

Our involvement with international climate change policies stemmed from experiences of climate disasters in increasing frequency in the region and with the most devastating impacts on marginalized women; also with the realisation that policy decisions both at national and international levels to address, mitigate and adapt rarely involve those affected. In the 2009 strategic plan, climate change was identified as an urgent issue, and subsequently created a Climate Justice sub-program, under the Breaking Out of Marginalization (BOOM) program, with an initial focus to document impacts, examine the different approaches to climate remedies and advocate for policy frameworks  owned by marginalized women including their adaptive expertise.


WEDO: What have been your greatest obstacles as well as your greatest achievements since you have been involved in gender and climate change advocacy at national and international levels?

Tess: The greatest achievement  of APWLD is how the feminist participatory research and documentation work undertaken in the program has contributed to our constituencies’ (predominantly rural  women) awareness/understanding of the climate crisis, its link to political and economic policies that exacerbate  gender inequality and poverty. The studies found good adaptive practices of rural women. The great challenge/obstacles is how to translate these findings of good practices and roles of women into a language that can influence policies and decisions and translate into concrete programs that will strengthen these good practices and make these as empowerment tools for women.

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