2020 was a special year for ASEAN as well as for Vietnam as ASEAN Chair in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic . Despite such a tough 12 months the country demonstrated its stature, mettle, and wisdom in many regards.
It left a deep imprint on the bloc, from selecting an appropriate theme of "Cohesive & Responsive ASEAN Community", proposals on priorities and initiatives, and preparations for and the organisation of conferences, to the drafting of documents and the holding of communications activities.
Its initiative to organise the ASEAN Women Leaders' Summit within the framework of the 37th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in November won many compliments from foreign delegates.
The summit afforded ASEAN leaders the chance to talk with outstanding female leaders in the region and in international organisations about how to further uphold their role in the process of building the ASEAN Community following the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was also one of the important activities held within the framework of ASEAN Year 2020 to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Beijing Declaration on gender equality, the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council's first Resolution on women, peace, and security, and the fifth anniversary of the ASEAN Community and the realisation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to 2030.
First-ever comprehensive discussion on gender issues
Ambassador Nguyen Nguyet Nga, Senior Advisor to the ASEAN 2020 National Secretariat and Vietnam's representative at the ASEAN Women for Peace Registry (AWPR), said the ASEAN Women Leaders' Summit was a feature of ASEAN Year 2020 with Vietnam as Chair.
The summit creates momentum for regional women to prove their role in the community while demonstrating the grouping's determination to guarantee women's empowerment, the ambassador told the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) on the sidelines of the ASEAN Women Leaders' Summit.
Matters regarding women and gender equality have been discussed in ASEAN over the last four decades and more, and mechanisms such as committee and ministerial meetings have been formed, helping to promote coordination within the bloc.
At the 36 th ASEAN Summit in June, Vietnam raised the initiative of organising the ASEAN Leaders' Special Session on Women's Empowerment in the Digital Age, Nga went on.
And within the framework of the 53 rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in September, the ASEAN Ministerial Dialogue on Strengthening Women's Role for Sustainable Peace and Security was held, she added.
However, it was not until the ASEAN Women Leaders' Summit that such key issues were given comprehensive focus for the first time, Nga stressed.
Among vulnerable groups, women have been the worst affected by COVID-19 in many respects, such as healthcare, education, and employment, the ambassador said. They therefore play a significant role in the pandemic fight and post-pandemic recovery.
The pandemic fight, digital transformation, and Industry 4.0 all require the soft power of women, as well as their capacity for connectivity and adaptability, she continued.
She emphasised that ASEAN must contribute to the common goals set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including gender equality and the empowerment of women and children, if the bloc wants to assert its global role.
President of the Vietnam Women's Union (VWU) Ha Thi Nga said the summit demonstrates ASEAN's strong commitment to enhancing gender equality and empowering women as well as Vietnam's consistent policy on the matter.
It will promote the role of women in all fields, towards a comprehensive ASEAN with people at the centre, she said.
The VWU will actively and responsibly contribute to ASEAN and other regional and international mechanisms, thus contributing to promoting women's progress and gender equality, she pledged.
Vietnam's initiatives praised
In an interview with VNA, Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Resident Representative for Vietnam, said women have an extraordinary role to play and women's leadership is extremely important at this time.
"I'm delighted to see the priorities that were identified at the first ASEAN Women Leaders' Summit," she said. "Women join forces across ASEAN and beyond and can have an extraordinary impact on business, peace, and peace building."
"The UNDP is honoured to accompany Vietnam and its women leadership and economic empowerment," she went on, emphasising that it stands ready to partner together and deepen the work.
Talking to VNA, Ambassador of the Netherlands Elsbeth Akkerman also complimented Vietnam on organising the ASEAN Women Leaders' Summit.
"I think it's very good that Vietnam underlines the fact that women can play a strong role in economic and social development," she said.
Delivering opening remarks at the summit, Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, in her role as the UN Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, focused in particular on disadvantaged groups such as women, small entrepreneurs, farms, and people on low incomes.
"Women are bearing the brunt of the economic shocks emanating from the COVID-19 crisis," she said. Early data suggest that women are twice as likely to lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic, and female-led SMEs are 6 percent more likely to close compared to their male counterparts.
There are also 5 million female economic migrants in the ASEAN region. In many instances their jobs are not subject to labour laws or social protection. Overall, the crisis has put a spotlight on existing gender inequalities and the need for women's economic participation. It has also made the call for a gender-deliberate response much more urgent.
The ASEAN Community, and the recently approved plan of action between ASEAN and the UN through 2025, offers an important platform to support women's economic empowerment as a key element of the COVID-19 response. Now is the time to build on the many good existing ASEAN initiatives, including the ASEAN Working Committee on Financial Inclusion.
"As the UN Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, I look forward to deepening my engagement with ASEAN member states," Queen Máxima said. "My partners and I stand ready to provide support to advance needed reforms, in addition to sharing and exchanging international best practices."./.
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