Women in Southeast Asia: 5 Young Professionals Share their Expertise in Bali Consultations

Women in Southeast Asia: 5 Young Professionals Share their Expertise in Bali Consultations

What’s the current situation of women in Southeast Asian politics and societies? Five authors of the Young Initiative on Foreign Affairs and International Relations (IFAIR)’s recent collaborative policy paper on gender equality shared their expertise in the Asia-Pacific Consultation on Gender Equality and the Political Empowerment of Women held on 9-10 December in Bali, Indonesia.

On behalf of IFAIR, young gender professionals with work backgrounds in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and Singapore joined 18 other gender experts for 2-day discussions. They presented the policy recommendations that were a product of the organization’s 3rd EU-ASEAN Perspectives Dialogue (EUAP III) on Gender Equality, an annual series of exchange between students and young practitioners tackling mutual social and economic challenges in both regions.

In addition to sharing the findings of the collaborative policy paper Gender Equality: An EU-ASEAN Interregional Perspective on Policy-Making, the authors also highlighted challenges best practices and experiences with regards to women political empowerment in different Southeast Asian countries based on their own experience. Their analyses provide highly interesting and topical insights into the current status of women in Southeast Asian societies.

Cambodia: Ratha Pen is working for the Malaria Consortium, a UK based international NGO, as a Technical Officer. At the consultations, he pointed out that a major hindrance for getting more women political leaders is the country’s electoral system. Because of its party list or proportional system, people vote for one party instead of individual candidates. The system therefore does not empower voters to choose women candidates as the lists are composed by party leaders who are dominantly men.

Indonesia: Marisna Yulianti is currently working as a gender specialist/consultant to support the Green Prosperity (GP) project of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Indonesia, a grant funding scheme administered by the US Government. She underlined the importance of not only engaging men in the gender equality dialogue but also targeting both women and men in capacity development for sensitizing politicians to gender issues and concerns. She cited that although there were women leaders, even presidents, in Asia, not many laws or policies benefiting women or girls were passed during their leadership.

Myanmar: Olivia Geymond has worked as a Women Economic Empowerment Project Manager for Empow’her and the National Young Women’s Christian Association of Myanmar. She highlighted two sets of challenges facing gender equality in politics in Myanmar, institutional and on-the-ground. Institutional challenges include the lack of reliable sex-disaggregated data, the flawed implementation of the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women and the non-compliance of the currently enforced Constitution with international frameworks. On-the-ground challenges include the weight of religious and cultural norms, women’s lack of education and acquired skills, restrictions in their time resources and mobility as well as in their access to financing, a lack of confidence and trust in the government, as well as the discrimination women keep facing once elected.

Philippines: Kent Tangcalagan is a Communications and Gender Inclusion Associate for Chemonics International. He believes that the main reason for the Philippines being the only Asian country among the top ten gender-equal countries according to the World Economic Forum is its organized and integrated gender mainstreaming system in the development, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government programs and activities. However, he also mentioned some challenges in the country, for instance lapses of implementation of gender laws and policies as well as the rising cyber-bullying of women political leaders.

Singapore: Hui Ying Lee is a research assistant with the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore. She argued that, in contrast to developing countries in Asia, the gender gap in education is already closed in the country. This being said, it is disturbing that highly educated women still choose not to hold high positions whether in the private sector or in the government due to strong social norms rooted in ‘Asian values’. According to her, this has to change and the government has to take measures to promote the treatment of women and men as equal caregivers of their families.

The IFAIR representatives also exchanged with the other experts to identify the main instruments in place in the Asia-Pacific region to put gender relations on a more equal footing. Together, they discussed policy recommendations contributing to the effective and efficient implementation of Agenda 2030 and the advancement of its goals 5, 10, 11 and 16, in particular. These suggestions, together with those of other regional dialogues, will feed into the Policy Guidebook on Gender and Political Participation of Women, which is a key output of the Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy (IRDD), a format for exchange on democracy promotion between regional organizations.

Held in different parts of the world, the Regional Consultations are a joint initiative by International IDEA, the Community of Democracies and the UN Development Program. They are a platform designed to allow an open exchange among key stakeholders regarding the trends, challenges and opportunities in the implementation of international agreements, as well as specific actions to promote gender equality and the political participation of women. The consultations for the Asia-Pacific in Bali were attended by representatives from the governments of Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Nepal, civil society actors such as Chemonics International and the Malaria Consortium, academia, as well as regional and international organizations.

Following up on the Asian Consultation on Gender Equality & Political Empowerment held in Bali in December 2016,  the Community of Democracies, International IDEA and UNDP have shared the results of the conference in a joint report titled “Advancing Women’s Political Participation“.