The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is not just a political or a business regional integration body. The ASEAN is also committed towards building a committed, participative and socially responsible community for the benefit of its people. The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) is one of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community, with the goal to build an ASEAN Community that is “committed to lift the quality of life of its peoples through cooperative activities that are people-oriented, people-centred socially responsible with a view to achieving enduring solidarity and unity among the nations and peoples of ASEAN by forging a common identity and building a caring and sharing society which is inclusive and harmonious where the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the peoples are enhanced”.

The ASCC holds regular meetings in order to work together its objectives for building an inclusive community that promotes high quality of life, equitable access to opportunities for all, and promotes and protects human rights, a sustainable community that promotes social development and environmental protection and a resilient community with enhanced capacity and capability to adapt and respond to social and economic vulnerabilities, disasters, climate change, and other new challenges.

The 26th ASCC Council Meeting was held on 29 September 2021, via video conference under the ASEAN Chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam. Guided by the theme of “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper”, the Meeting commended the significant development and progress in the region despite the uncertain outlook with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in realising the three (3) priorities of Brunei Darussalam’s Chairmanship: (i) harnessing the caring nature of ASEAN to build a harmonious and resilient community with the people at its centre (A Caring Community); (ii) preparing and adapting for the future to ensure that ASEAN remains relevant and resilient to overcome existing and future challenges and threats (A Prepared Community); and (iii) creating opportunities for people to benefit through initiatives that enhance the sustainable prosperity of the region (A Prosperous Community). Such priorities contributed towards building on and promoting continuity to the region’s efforts to responding and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Meeting further commended the inclusive and holistic actions by the ASCC Sectoral Bodies to address the gaps and challenges affecting the region, in areas such as public health, social protection, structural inequalities, fake news and misinformation, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis, among others.

The Meeting recognised the importance of care work during the pandemic and the need to identify new ways to balance new social and economic dynamics with family responsibilities. The Meeting supported the development and finalisation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Framework on Care Economy as a timely initiative that will steer the region and guide policy makers in addressing the growing challenge of sustaining investment in care, and for the whole spectrum of care work, to become an indispensable part of our inclusive socio-economic growth. The Meeting noted the broad strategies that are expected to support and develop the ASEAN care economy, as well as to complement the ACRF and the ASEAN Community Post-2025 Vision.

The ASCC Meeting appreciated the progress of key collective initiatives on COVID-19 to prepare the region for future public health emergencies. These initiatives included the development of the ASEAN Public Health Emergency Coordination Systems, and the launching of the ASEAN Portal for Public Health Emergencies.
The Meeting looked forward to the setting up and subsequent operationalisation of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED) and a decision on the host country. The Meeting also recognised the importance of strengthening cooperation in addressing the pandemic’s impact on mental health.

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