Turning momentum for women

Turning momentum for women

Over the past few years, women's leadership and participation have gained momentum in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations especially in promoting inclusive governance and decision making. There has been a rising demand for more of an inclusive and diverse representation of leadership within the region.

Youths are important agents of political change in Southeast Asia, calling for more inclusive political participation. Recent elections have seen a change in voter turnout and a shift in traditional affiliations. There is a growing openness among citizens to explore alternative options and consider ideas from various political perspectives. The region has also witnessed emergence of new candidates, including young women.

Promoting women's leadership and political participation is a vital accelerator for Asean member states to fulfil the Asean Community Vision and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). This goes beyond increasing the number of female candidates to ensure substantive representation of women with a stronger connection to policy decision-making, advancing gender equality and inclusive governance more broadly.

More efforts are needed to enhance the connection between women representatives in parliaments with the critical issues and challenges faced by women and girls in the region. We need to recognise that women leaders are capable of not only advocating for issues around gender equality but also, need to address issues traditionally associated to women representatives, such as childcare and maternity leave. They should also be engaged in strategic issues, ranging from peace and security to economic growth and environmental sustainability.

This means governments and development partners must sustain their investments to elevate women's social, political and economic empowerment beyond short-term political and aid funding cycles. This includes targeted support for women's rights and empowerment in education and employment. It also includes women's safety, security, and independency. Without securing these tangible results, women and girls will have limited life chances compared to those of men and boys and be barred from making a meaningful contribution for peace and prosperity in the region.

To effectively advocate for women leaders in parliament, we should also need the support of more male champions, allies, and leaders, both inside and outside of parliaments, to create a safer environment for women in politics and broaden the space for greater participation of women. Policies to make the parliament a conducive place for women leaders need to be in place. Ultimately, it is about gender and social norm change that enables women to share their perspectives and play even more meaningful roles in the most pressing issues of our time.

However, this broader change takes time, planning, and concerted effort. The Women Parliamentarians of the Asean Inter-parliamentary Assembly (WAIPA), the regional mechanism that plays a key role in promoting women's empowerment in politics, is taking a critical step in Asean by formulating a plan of action to promote women's political participation and leadership. The conclusion of the 3rd WAIPA Coordinating Committee Meeting on Feb 6 has paved the way for the official adoption of the plan of action and its implementation framework at the 45th AIPA General Assembly in Vientiane, Lao PDR in October.

The plan of action is built around three pillars: an enabling environment and safe space for women to participate and lead in politics; the empowerment of women in politics; and a gender-responsive parliament and decision-making, which lay the groundwork for concrete action to address issues and challenges to women's leadership and political participation in the region. The plan lists clear implementation activities that will be carried out at the regional level or within the countries of the AIPA (Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly) member parliaments, starting from this year and continuing through 2030.

Several implementation activities are focused on engaging women with diverse backgrounds, including women with disabilities, and addressing barriers and challenges faced by women in politics. In promoting gender-responsive parliaments, the AIPA member parliaments aim to advocate for, raise awareness of the value of gender-responsive parliaments, including providing budget allocation for training and capacity building of parliamentary staff to enhance understanding of the concept and its associated challenges.

The plan goes beyond training and developing toolkits; it also aims to strengthen the capacity of women parliamentarians. It also aims to build regional networks among women parliamentary caucuses, and channels of engagement to connect women leaders in parliament with the aspiring young leaders including young women leaders, fostering inter-generational collaborations.

Last but certainly not least, the WAIPA leverages its regional standing and includes in this plan of action regional mechanism for the exchange of knowledge and good practices, also the development of regional knowledge products, guidelines, tools and KPI (key performance indicators) to support the implementation of gender-responsive policy and legislation.

It is promising to envision the potential impact of the forthcoming WAIPA Plan of Action in advancing women's empowerment in the parliaments of Southeast Asia, aligning with Asean frameworks like the Asean Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace, and Security, among others, spanning until 2030. This will amplify the importance of women's leadership and participation in decision-making on key regional priorities, including supporting Asean as a region in accelerating the achievement of the Asean Community Vision and the SDGs for all.

Putri Maha Lima is the Deputy Secretary-General of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA). Siti Rozaimeriyanty Dato Haji Abdul Rahman is the AIPA Secretary-General. Jamshed M Kazi, Representative of UN Women Indonesia and Liaison to Asean.

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