SHARE >>>  
/// NEWS

Gender Equality and empowerment

26 November 2019


EU-ASEAN and gender equality

In the context of the 3rd EU-ASEAN Human Rights Dialogue, the EU-Asia Centre organized an event with the EEAS on 26 November on ‘the role of gender equality and women’s empowerment in sustainable development’ 

Ambassador Mara Marinaki, EEAS Principal Adviser on Gender and on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Securitysaid that the EU has been and is engaged with promoting gender equality and supporting women’s empowerment. This was a key part of the EU’s peace and security agenda. Building partnerships was a central plank in these efforts and ASEAN was a major partner. EU and ASEAN foreign ministers were committed to this broad peace and security agenda including management of conflicts and post-conflict situations where women were often affected With UN resolution 1325 anniversary approaching it was essential to emphasise that the SDGs could not be achieved without gender equality. The EU’s Spotlight Initiative with generous funding of 500m euros was aimed at preventing violence against women 

Professor Amara  Pongsapich, Representative of Thailand and Chair of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, said that ASEAN was devoting more attention to human rights and women’s empowerment – especially given their importance to achieving the SDGs. The gender dimension was apparent in all 17 goals. Civil society had a huge role to play and the EU and ASEAN could learn from each other. 

Panel discussion

Kheng Samvada, Vice-Chair of the ASEAN Committee on Womenstated that access to education leads to better employment – and more cash in women’s hands leads to better health and education. Neglect of women and girls' potential means a huge economic loss. ASEAN was trying to promote female leadership, to avoid gender stereotyping, and to introduce gender mainstreaming in all institutional pillars of ASEAN. The ACW was working on elimination of violence against women. The annual meeting sets a five year work plan and each country implements the goal according to local circumstances. Experiences are then shared in regional workshops. There was a monitoring tool to assess the problem areas.

In Cambodia there was equality in the constitution and the mechanism to implement its goals was the ministry of women’s affairs with representatives in all ministries. The queen was the honorary president and the prime minister the honorary chair. Each ministry has a gender mainstreaming action group but there are some human resource constraints. Gender is being mainstreamed in all national policies and programmes;  and there were new laws addressing violence towards and trafficking of women.

Chiara Adamo, DG DEVCO, said there was a consensus about the importance of women’s empowerment to development and achievement of SDGs. For example, an IMF study showed that gender equality would grow the Pakistan economy by 30%. But despite this broad recognition nobody, not even in the in EU, has reached the Goal 5 of SDGs. It is clear that social norms and laws must change; many countries still do not have laws to sanction domestic violence – and some studies report that 40% women have been victims of violence in the past year.

Laws were important but there needed to be an on-going campaign involving civil society, local and  communities at large, including religious leaders where relevant,  for a lasting impact. The Asian component of the Spotlight Initiative was already underway addressing labour conditions and trafficking of women. The EU and ASEAN had been working together for two years developing a systemic approach involving all stakeholders. There were already improvements in labour rights, female migrant workers, and raising awareness against trafficking of women


Jelen Paclarin, WEAVE, noted that the Philippines was the only ASEAN country in 10 of Global Gender Gap report. It was successful in many indicators – political participation etc. - but these indicators do not reveal the full reality of Philippines. Gender equality was about freedom. Gender cultural norms, perpetuated by family, community and even state restrain girls. Philippines have an issue with misogyny and violence towards women. Gender equality is often only connected with participation – on grass-root level importance of marginalised women – LGBT, domestic women, rural women and girls, who are often left out of the consultations with government agencies. The role of marginalised women should be part of the agenda.

The institutional mechanisms to address violence against women were inadequate – many government officials did not really care about the issue. But without addressing violence women would not benefit from economic development. There was an active civil society in the Philippines that had helped push for new legislation. But that was not enough.  The problems were often at home - violence by fathers and husbands. Implementation of programmes to protect women must take all the women into account. 

Serap Altinisik, of Plan International said that the technological, political, and economical situation of young women has changed. They are more politically active than before – and more social media savvy. Challenges and gaps: report by Equal Measures 2030 – implementation of SDG 5 published in June – studied 125 countries and none of the countries have fully reached gender equality – not even in the EU. A new OECD report on gender equality shows a lack of funding on women equality – only 4% of donations/aid spending goes to programs that have gender equality as principal objective. Only women and girls can truly tell what should be done on the basis of their own experiences – PLAN International puts women and girls on the front of their programming and want to give them the voice in designing of their programming.

The Safer Cities initiative was a good example of young women using technology (an app) to exchange experiences of where was safe in cities. More and more young women live and work in the cities which provide opportunities ut also problems: sexual harassment and violence.



Opening the discussion Fraser Cameron noted that the new president of the European Commission was a woman and she had attempted to achieve a 50-50 gender split in commissioners. How important was leadership in setting examples? Who were the good performers in the EU and ASEAN?

Some speakers pointed to the good example of the Nordic countries with their quota systems for women but others thought quotas were not a panacea.

One participant from Laos complained about the gap between legislation and the reality. Most ASEAN countries lacked the resources to properly implement the laws. How to eliminate the sexist habits of fathers, grandfathers?

Other participants agreed that changing male consciousness was key. History was full of male leadership and violence. The female approach was usually more participatory and inclusive. Education was important in inculcating standards of equality and respect.

There were specific problems in countries such as Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge had killed thousands of women thus leading to a lack of self-confidence and unwillingness to engage in politics. 

There was also agreement that leadership and role models were important. Misogynist leaders who set a bad example were doing untold damage. But movements such as “Me Too” could have a positive impact as young female role models such as Greta Thunberg.

A final conclusion was the importance of the power of movements in bringing about change. Gender equality was more than just women and girl’s issues – it was about creating a just and more equal society.

This event, funded by the EU, was co-organized by EEAS and the EU-Asia Centre in the context of the 3rd EU-ASEAN Human Rights Dialogue