Your Excellency, Datin Paduka Hajah Intan, Chair and Representative of Brunei Darussalam to the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children;
Excellencies, Representatives to the ACWC; Mrs Rodora Babaran ASEAN Director of Socio-Cultural Cooperation,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my great pleasure to join you today to discuss an issue near and dear to my heart: how we can work together to promote and protect women’s and children’s rights throughout the ASEAN region. ASEAN is a critical institution and an important partner for the United States.
We share your commitment to improving the lives of women and children. And we know that women’s inclusion in development and economic growth has been part of ASEAN policymaking since 1976 when the ASEAN Sub Committee on women was established.
Though ASEAN has made important progress, there is much work left to do to improve the lives of women and children. I recently learned from reading the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index that Southeast Asia does not fare as well as well as it could in worldwide rankings. These rankings compare the differential among women and men in health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. Of 142 countries ranked, the Philippines comes in at number 9. That is truly commendable. But it is the only top 10 ranking within ASEAN. Four ASEAN Member States rank between 50 and 80, while another 4 Member States come in right around 100. These rankings must be taken for what they are, which is simply an imperfect attempt to measure similar data across very different contexts.
Still, we should not ignore what these rankings imply. Clearly, there is much we must do, including, I want to note, in the United States, which ranks 20th. We all know that when women are treated equally, and given education and opportunity whole societies benefit. For example, a recent UN Women report concluded that removing barriers to full participation of women in the workforce in the Asia-Pacific region, could boost the economy by $89 billion every year. We must continue, in partnership, to make progress for women and children for the sake of all of our citizens, male and female, old and young.
As you all are aware, the United States has made a strong commitment to work closely with you to help the women and children of ASEAN. And I want you to know that women and youth are two out of my top five priorities for US engagement with ASEAN.
Beginning last year, through the ASEAN-U.S. PROGRESS project, the United States has provided ongoing support for the ACWC’s efforts in three main areas. First, we have been pleased to support strengthening the ACWC as an institution. We hosted the visit of ACWC to the United States in April 2012 as well as the recent follow up visit of U.S. and Organization of American States representatives to the region. We hope these exchanges provided valuable insights for you as you consider the ACWC’s development within an increasingly integrated ASEAN region. Going forward, we will continue to support your efforts to strengthen social protections in ASEAN as you prepare the next ACWC work plan.
Secondly, we are excited that together we’ve accomplished a significant amount of preparatory work to establish an ASEAN Network of Social Services Agencies—known as NOSSA—that will be launched this year. As you all are well aware, the United States, through PROGRESS, has been conducting a series of in-country consultations to provide information and to elicit national-level support for the establishment of a NOSSA. To date, we have spoken with nine of the ten countries.
My team will present and discuss with you our preliminary findings later in the program. We share ACWC’s vision of this network as a platform for exchanging information, best practices, and common standards of service provision to women and children victims of violence across ASEAN. Preventing and responding to gender-based violence is a cornerstone of President Obama’s commitment to advancing gender equality,
And it is also central to the goals and objectives in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Elimination of Violence Against Children in ASEAN. We now look to you to finalize how the network will be established and operate. We expect once it is established, NOSSA will provide a strong network of both governmental and non-governmental practitioners to help shape how ASEAN protects its vulnerable citizens.
Finally we look forward to assisting the ACWC to harmonize regional approaches to addressing violence against women and children as set out in the objectives of the Declaration. This year we will begin to help the ACWC’s efforts to develop and finalize a regional action plan on eliminating violence against women and children. Our team looks forward to discussing and developing this activity with you later this morning.
In addition to these three programs, we support other activities with ASEAN that are contributing to women’s economic empowerment. We have helped to launch the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network and we are working with ASEAN small and medium-sized enterprise agencies to create policies and programs that enable women-owned businesses.
The United States is delighted to be a partner with ACWC to pursue our common goal of creating better lives, free from violence and discrimination, and full of opportunity, for the women and children of ASEAN. I thank you for the opportunity to meet with all of you here today and I would welcome hearing your views, including ideas on how we can collaborate even further in the future.
We look forward to continued engagement and meaningful collaboration in 2015 and beyond. Thank you.