PH concludes series of ASEAN Gender Mainstreaming Confab with Political Security Officials

Empowering women in politics and security takes the “ASEAN way” as senior officials from its ten member states conclude the Senior Officials Conference on Gender Mainstreaming in the ASEAN Political-Security Community Sectoral Bodies (APSC).

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), serving as the national focal point for the ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW), spearheaded the conference held at the Diamond Hotel, Manila on September 11-13, 2019. It is part of the series of conferences hosted by the Philippine Government that aimed to strengthen the promotion and fulfillment of women’s rights in all three pillars of the ASEAN, to support the ASEAN Community’s goal to pursue gender equality and women’s empowerment.

PCW Chairperson Rhodora Masilang-Bucoy highlighted the potential impact of the conference to the ASEAN community.

“We aim to mainstream gender in the APSC to further strengthen our fight for democracy, good governance, the rule of law, and the promotion and protection of human rights. We remain relentless in the efforts to end gender stereotypes, promote the role of women in peace and security, in the legislature and the judiciary, to pursue women’s empowerment and their participation in post-conflict situations, among others,” Bucoy said.

Dr. Hoang Anh Tuan, Deputy Secretary-General for APSC, expressed enthusiasm that gender equality in political-security can lead to progress. “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, it is also vital for economic growth and a necessary foundation for peace, prosperity, and sustainable development in the region and the world.”

Gender Mainstreaming, the ASEAN Way

Conference speakers  oriented the APSC delegates on the basic gender concepts and gender mainstreaming and provided an overview on the situation of women in political-security.

Former PCW Executive Director Emmeline L. Verzosa reported that while gender equality is being achieved in ten ASEAN countries based on the Global Gender Gap Index, the gap has to be narrowed further in terms of legal infrastructure, women in parliament, women in judiciary, and women’s engagement in the sphere of political-security.

But what is gender, exactly? And what is its relevance to politics? Dr. Lourdesita Sobrevega-Chan, Philippine Women’s Rights Representative to the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), answered these questions by explaining the difference between sex and gender, the gender roles, and stereotypes. She stressed that failure to understand these will manifest in various political schemes, including gender biases and unequal power relations, as can be seen in marginalization, subordination, multiple burden, gender stereotyping, and violence against women.

“Gender role stereotyping and consequent subordination of women to men is a deterrent to development,” added Sobrevega-Chan.

However, gender and development (GAD) is an impossible feat without data to back it up. Sara Duerto Valero of the UN Women discussed how gender statistics can lead to better policy-making, accountability, advocacy, and analysis research towards GAD. But this remains a challenge especially in hard to reach population groups and emerging areas like environment, governance, and disaster.

However, the ASEAN is heading towards this direction. ASEAN Poverty Eradication and Gender Division Senior Officer Miguel Rafael Musngi shared the guidelines for the gender-responsive implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals. These are geared towards the recognition of the role of women across all aspects of development.

Best Practices and Challenges in Gender Mainstreaming

Notable practices in gender mainstreaming worthy of replication were discussed in three key areas in political-security – Women, Peace and Security (WPS); Human Rights and Transnational Crime; and Judiciary, Legislation and Governance.

For one, H.E. Mrs. Dam Dariny, Cambodia Ministry of Defense Secretary of State, shared that in their country, the number of women in public service and leadership positions is rising and gender networking has been established in the whole Royal Cambodia Armed Forces. Cambodia also ranks second, among ASEAN member states, in the number of women peacekeepers in various UN missions in the Middle East and Africa.

Philippine Army’s First Female Brigade Commander Col. Joselyn A. Regis-Bandarlipe also shared the transition of women in the military from being auxiliaries to being assigned to field units. However, even with forward-looking policies, women remain at the margins of army combat units.

“Until and unless women are admitted to combat roles and fully allowed to risk their lives or kill for the state, citizenship cannot be equal for men and women,” she said.

But, gains do not come without challenges. Yuyun Wahyuningrum, the Representative of Indonesia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), shared that these challenges include the absence of a specific gender mainstreaming strategy and weak coordination and monitoring mechanisms in AICHR. She added that adequate human rights protection mechanisms for women and girls must be set in place.

For the Philippines, Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit of the Commission on Human Rights highlighted the need to use GAD data and gender-related indicators in their work of planning and budgeting.

Professor Dato Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, Malaysian Representative for Children’s Rights to the ACWC said that in this day and age when children are exposed to social media, the side effects of internet advancement must be curtailed because these jeopardize children’s security. She shared that there is a draft Declaration on Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse which they hope to adopt at the 35th ASEAN Summit this year.

Another problem threatening the political-security welfare of women and children is human trafficking. Jean Enriquez, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific, lamented that the real definition of trafficking in the policy level is mostly neglected. She shared the efforts to conduct trainings on post-conflict survivor-centered response to trafficking in the Philippines’ Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Marawi, and adjacent municipalities. The country also strengthened the Violence against Women desks in barangays and issued orders and ordinances on the establishment of local committees against trafficking and VAWC.

Also worthy of recalibration is the security of women in times of disasters and emergency situations. Prof. Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza of the Asia Pacific Center on the Responsibility to Protect commented that there are no regional policy guidelines in emergency situations and that disaster risk reduction must take a humanitarian approach.

The panelists also underscored the gains in gender mainstreaming in the judiciary, legislation, and governance. Dr. Phan Thi Lan Huong of Hanoi Law University reported that in their country, there are no legal barriers to women’s participation in politics and government, with females comprising 25% of the national assembly and 80% of the leaderships in ministerial agencies. But she pointed out that discrimination and obstacles to employment opportunities still exist.

Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier of the Supreme Court of the Philippines busted some myths on the Philippine judiciary, saying that its body of work reflects the struggle for a more nuanced appreciation of sex, gender, and its intersectionality with an individual’s identity. The Supreme Court is taking a more progressive view towards sexuality and human relations, like when it upheld the constitutionality of the Philippines’ Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Law (RA 9262).

Ms. Hong Chin Chin of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency explained how corruption affects women, especially in accessing basic services, engaging in electoral politics, and in sextortion or sexual extortion. Commissioner Roland Pondoc of the Philippine Commission on Audit shared how the Philippine Development Plan integrates gender equality, complemented by the Gender Equality & Women Empowerment (GEWE) Plan 2019-2025.

But what does this mean for the ASEAN Women?

The conference delegates vow to recommend adoption of the action plans to translate the conference lessons into concrete measures to benefit the ASEAN Community. They proposed Gender Mainstreaming Action Plans (GMAPs) vis-à-vis the gender issues identified by the sectoral bodies.

In terms of policy, the APSC shall develop guidelines on how to mainstream a gender perspective in policy-making and implementation. Gender-budgeting for political and security programs will also be established.

As to the entry point of people, the way to move forward is to build the capacity of the sectors in APSC on gender mainstreaming, establish a pool of trainers on GAD in each sector of the APSC, as well as designate a focal point in each ASEAN Sectoral Body and Entity in the APSC.

For enabling mechanisms, the proposal is to create platforms for coordination, information exchange and sharing of good practices among sectors in APSC, establish Technical Working Group which consists of the APSC coordinator and gender focal point in each sectoral body, and develop a GAD database system and tools for analysis.

Under programs, activities and projects, the direction points toward the development of regional statistics, including a sex-disaggregated database for the APSC sectors and programs, create programs related to gender audit to assess the gender-responsive dimension policy-making and its implementation and publish a periodic report on the state of gender equality in the political security sector of the ASEAN.

Towards the conclusion of the conference, Ambassador Elizabeth Buensuceso, former Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the ASEAN, pointed out the need to mainstream GAD in all aspects of APSC work.

Ambassador Buensuceso said that if only we put on our gender lenses in facing the major challenges facing ASEAN today, then we would have solved and managed them effectively.

Undersecretary Zainal Abidin of Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense said he is impressed with the gender mainstreaming practices of the ASEAN member states, especially the comprehensive guidelines developed by the Philippine government in protecting women.

“Some of the guidelines stipulated that there should be no discrimination towards any gender, and we should observe and engage all the stakeholders to ensure that the guidelines are prepared according to the needs of the people,” expressed Abidin.

The APSC gathering culminated the series of conferences that the Philippines had committed under the ACW Work Plan 2016-2020. The Senior Officials Conference on Gender Mainstreaming in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) was held in June 2018, followed by the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Sectoral Bodies Conference in December 2018.

For the highlights of the conference, watch this video: