Engendering a resilient and inclusive Asean
In 2017, on the 50th founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean), policymakers, women business leaders, entrepreneurs, and international organizations gathered for the first Asean Women’s Business Conference in Manila and urged Asean leaders to recognize the importance of women’s economic empowerment as a key strategy in achieving economic growth, stability, and prosperity in the region. In turn, the Asean leaders adopted the Action Agenda on Women’s Economic Empowerment, and encouraged all Asean member states to mainstream women’s economic empowerment through innovation, trade, and inclusive business.
Since then, efforts have been made to implement this agenda. But in the midst of Asean’s burgeoning prosperity, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and laid bare the inequities on which the region’s economic growth is founded. Despite constituting more than half of the population in Asean, women have less economic power, as they are generally earning less, saving less, holding insecure jobs, and performing double the unpaid care and domestic work than men.
With this in mind, the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN), as the focal point of the Asean Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN), and Oxfam International will launch their collaborative briefing paper on April 22 titled “Asean Through a Gender Lens.” This gendered policy analysis aims to make women visible in regional policymaking by providing a perspective on how structures put women at a disadvantage, and the ways these barriers can be removed.
In terms of macroeconomic policymaking, the Asean Economic Community Blueprint does not acknowledge the gender gap in economic initiatives, incentives, and regulations in the region. In order to fully capture the needs of women workers and entrepreneurs, there must be a disaggregation of data on gender in the Asean Statistical Yearbook, to provide in-depth information on the extent of economic participation that women—urban, rural, or from indigenous populations—are allowed or have support in.
Societal norms limit women from developing skills and careers in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Specific interventions, such as capacity-building, are needed in order for women to effectively use information and communication technologies as tools for economic advancement in their workplaces or businesses.
Financial institutions and private equity funds generally favor men who have the financial and management training to solicit and grow investments in their enterprises. Women must also be given the same upskilling programs to be competitive in the capital flows market. Gender-responsive procurement by private companies will also help in equalizing the access of women to global value chains and international markets.
Gender-responsive indicators in the Asean Governance Scorecard for corporations are a good start in encouraging increased women’s participation in the workforce and, later on, in executive and managerial positions.
Asean Sectoral Bodies need diverse representation; women must be adequately represented in economic policymaking. This ensures that women’s concerns are communicated and addressed.
Women’s business groups such as AWEN can represent women’s concerns either as a separate interest group like a women’s business council, or by institutionally participating as a member of a proposed Asean Gender Mainstreaming Committee.
The Action Agenda is a groundbreaking instrument in Asean; it enlarged the scope of gender policies from a framework of protection to economic empowerment as a cross-cutting concern. Now more than ever, it is time to put the Action Agenda at the forefront of policymaking. For Asean to truly and fully recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the regional workplace and marketplace must be inclusive. Women must not be left behind.
Kristine C. Francisco-Alcantara is the project officer for the AWEN-Oxfam Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South-East Asia (GRAISEA) Project, and managing partner of Abad Alcantara and Associates.
Women Who Lead is an initiative of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN).
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.