Working together to Achieve Gender Equality in Europe and Southeast Asia

Working together to Achieve Gender Equality in Europe and Southeast Asia

While gender equality is a global issue, it manifests in different forms across the globe. Is there common ground for an interregional agenda to reduce gender-based discrimination and violence in Europe and Asia? To approach this question from the perspective of young people, students and young professionals from 14 different countries discussed gender problems in the two regions and brainstormed on solutions onine in IFAIR’s 3rd EU-ASEAN Perspectives Dialogue (EUAP III).

Since 2013, the EUAP project is a young voice in the interregional policy debate between the EU and ASEAN. This years edition, dedicated to the theme “Gender Equality – Progress and Challenges from an Interregional EU-ASEAN Perspective”, is under the patronage of H.E. Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, and Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary-General for Political Affairs of the European External Action Service and soon to be the agency’s Secretary-General.

An innovative online conference format

From 30 July to 7 August 2016, 20 European and Southeast Asian participants of the 3rd interregional EU-ASEAN Perspectives dialogue (EUAP III) met online for a series of plenary and workshop sessions (list of participants). After an opening plenary, they split up into four breakout groups (BOG), each consisting of five people, for a more dynamic and personal exchange. Over the next days, each BOG had three workshop sessions in which the topics of political and economic participation of women, and the relation between gender and culture were explored.

Under the guidance of workshop facilitators Chiara De Santis (Italy, EUAP II alumni), Cesar Ong (Philippines, EUAP I alumni), Dani Mulyanto (Indonesia, EUAP II alumni) and Kilian Spandler (Germany, IFAIR Co-director for South and East Asia), the BOGs came up with many ideas for policy recommendations on EU-ASEAN cooperation on gender equality. The workshops were designed to capture not only the academic and policy debate, but also personal experiences of the young participants. Their own encounters with gender discrimination are symptomatic of the wider problems and also give concrete examples how gender issues affect young people in the EU and ASEAN.

In addition to personal experiences, each BOG investigated what the main problems for gender equality are, what solutions could be available, explored the existing policies at national, regional and interregional level, and finally formulated tentative policy recommendation to the EU and ASEAN. At the end of the final workshop, each group selected three of their best policy recommendations. These ideas were explored in more depth in the following week and were the foundation of the group presentation each BOG had to make at the concluding plenary on 7 August.

Exchanging with experts in the field

The days between the workshops and the concluding plenary were a time to work within the BOGs to develop the final presentations, but also an opportunity to get feedback from the EUAP III (expert advisors). The participants asked a number of questions that would be useful to them for improving their policy recommendations. Some of the questions were:

  • How do we harness the ASEAN Economic Community in ensuring that parallel protection laws on gender equality can be observed throughout the region despite the lack of the commission’s authority over the nation’s legal instruments? How can the EU intervene considering their experiences of a single market?
  • Are there national policies promoting innovative forms of work which are more gender equality friendly (e.g.: the possibility to work remotely, etc.) that other countries could get inspired from?
  • If (lower) education is to be made more gender sensitive, are there strategies that could prevent (anti-education) backlashes caused by more conservative cultures that may be present in the family/household of the children?

After some intense group work to prepare the presentation of their top 3 policy recommendations, overcoming the challenges of coordinating between multiple time zone and over online communication, all 20 participants came together for the concluding plenary on 7 August. The meeting was kicked-off by H.E. Franz Jessen, EU Ambassador to the Philippines, whose address showed EU’s support for youth initiatives, gender equality and deeper cooperation with ASEAN. After the exchange with the Ambassador, which included questions on EU-ASEAN relations, gender equality, but also on opportunities for academic and professional development, the group presentations were held. The young participants from the EU and ASEAN showed through collaborating on research and presentations that their cultural diversity and shared passion for a topic can lead to great ideas. Proposed policy recommendations included:

  • Design gender-sensitive early education (the recommendation included multiple specific examples how this can be improved)
  • Set up diversity task forces to examine the state of gender diversity on boards and in senior management and its impact on corporate performance and governance
  • Engage youth in decision-making on equality concerns, e.g. through youth groups as part of civil society inclusion, through better use of social media platforms
  • Understand female entrepreneurship as a mean and an end in achieving gender equality

You can view the complete BOG presentations below:

The follow-up discussion made clear that the question of how to best frame gender equality within regional and interregional relations is not so easy to answer. To advance the cause of gender equality, should it be linked to tapping into the unexplored economic potential of women, or should the human rights route be pursued as it means no compromises with the full range of gender equality? It was also noticeable that variations of the same policy recommendations were picked by different groups as one of their leading ideas for solutions. More research is needed to identify the most actionable elements and combine recommendations. Some recommendations build upon existing platforms – how to best integrate them?

Face-to-face discussion with high-level policy makers in November

This rich material will be taken to the next level of research in the process of drafting the EUAP III Policy Paper on Gender Equality. Between August and November 2016, the majority of the online conference participants will continue working on the generated ideas. The policy paper will flesh out and explore in more depth the policy recommendations that the young EU and ASEAN researchers want to propose to the regional organisations.

The insights and ideas resulting from the dialogue will be published by IFAIR as the third instalment in the EUAP Policy Paper Series and presented to interregional policy makers at a live event at the start of November 2016, where the participants will discuss its findings with policy makers, civil society and the general public at a concluding live event in November.

You can find up-to-date information about EUAP III at the project site.