The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is committed to promoting gender equality and empowerment of women. The ASEAN Member States are also the members of the Non-Aligned Movement which shares a similar commitment and has constantly stressed the importance of achieving the full realization of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

ASEAN recognises that during the challenging time of COVID-19, addressing gender inequality and upholding women’s rights as well as preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence are essential to responding effectively to the pandemic’s multi-sectoral impacts, to recovering faster and building a better future. ASEAN has urged all governments and all relevant stakeholders to consciously mainstream the need of women and girls ‘concerns in their efforts and place women’s leadership and contributions at the heart of the COVID-19 response, resilience, and post-pandemic recovery effort.

On June 26 2020, the ASEAN Leaders’ Special Session at the 36th ASEAN Summit on Women’s Empowerment in the Digital Age was held via video conferencing. The Special Session was chaired by Nguyen Xuan Phuoc, Prime Minister of Vietnam, in his capacity as the Chairman of ASEAN and was attended by leaders of ASEAN Member States. Memo Nguyen The Kim Ngan, Chairwoman of the National Assembly of Vietnam; Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, Dr. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Dato’ Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN were keynote speakers at the Special Session.

In his remarks, Vietnam PM Phúc highlighted the role played by women and their contributions to humankind’s efforts to respond to challenges and promote development in each ASEAN country. “There remains inequality and discrimination against women, however, which inhibits their development and contributions to the community,” he said. He further underlined the need for ASEAN to take action to utilise women’s potential and create conditions for them to use their strengths and contribute to development in regional countries and the ASEAN Community, especially in the digital age.

Addressing the gathering, Chairwoman of the Vietnamese National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, who is also Chair of the 41st General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA 41), highly valued the initiatives and strong commitment of ASEAN in promoting the role and rights of women and women’s empowerment in the digital age. She proposed measures to make progress even more effective. Ngan expressed her belief that ASEAN would continue to take advantage of the region with the world’s fast internet growth to enhance the position of women, especially those in leadership positions. ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi underlined the significance and timing of the session as it took place amid challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Special Session, ASEAN leaders emphasised their continued commitment to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. ASEAN took this opportunity to join the world in commemorating the 25th and 20th anniversary of the adoption of these milestone documents on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The leaders reaffirmed the need to leverage ASEAN-led mechanisms and cooperation with development partners to support the implementation of regional commitments in advancing the women, peace and security agenda; to continue addressing issues that hinder greater women empowerment such as poverty, discrimination, gender inequality, social injustice, armed conflicts, economic, and social exclusion of persons and communities vulnerable to and at risk of radicalisation, violent extremism, and terrorism; and to contribute to achieving economic progress, and enabling social development and longstanding peace and prosperity in the region.

ASEAN leaders also committed to promote human resource development and capacity building to further strengthen opportunities for women in frontier technologies and innovation, especially in relation to smart factories, digital value chains, digital inclusion and digital literacy, including by creating greater opportunity for women’s access to digital education, skills and tools, women’s financial inclusion and up-skilling and re-skilling of the women workforce, promoting STEM education for women and girls, and enabling environment for women micro, small, medium enterprises. ASEAN thus recognises that ensuring achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls will significantly contribute to the effective realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), where no one will be left behind.

By Dr. Ankit Srivastava

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