This policy advice advocates for Indonesia to assert itself as a regional leader in science and technology by implementing specific policies and programmes. The policies and programmes are coherent with UNESCO’s Open Science framework, which incentivizes Indonesia to make all of its publicly funded scientific research open access, to invest in a robust and ubiquitous digital infrastructure, and to establish a centralized online repository and publishing system for scientific research. Using the 2023 ASEAN Presidency to announce its position on Open Science and international science cooperation, Indonesia would trigger a political gravity for regional and international science communities, making it an attractive country for highly talented scientists and researchers while creating a basis for the Indonesian population writ large to participate in scientific knowledge production.
Digital technologies have only served to intensify tensions among a range of connected concerns: national security, the security of individuals, and policies or laws set in place to ensure such security in the digital ecosystem. This is especially apparent when it comes to the security of women and girls. As a matter of fact, the orientation of digital data is such – devoid of attention to people and places1 – that it sheds light on the fragility of legal certainties and boundaries, which becomes ‘increasingly “undone” by digital technologies and future-oriented security practices’.2 To address these rapid changes, policymakers have opted to explore areas of new knowledge as they emerge in controversies of mass surveillance, fraud, harassment, and the like as they would in the physical realm. Unfortunately, this has taken place through systems of governance that, once again, leave out the interests of certain groups, be it women, sexual minorities, or other minority groups. What is required now is the advancement of more critical approaches to digital security, especially for the protection of women and girls.
In March 2022, the Singapore government tabled a white paper3 on women’s development following a year-long consultation with the public. The paper acknowledged, along with other key areas for change, the need for greater efforts to create safe spaces in the digital ecosystem. Singapore is among the safest cities in the world yet sexual harassment and other forms of offence against women persist and have taken on new arenas such as going online. “Efforts must begin upstream,” the white paper highlights. Hence, Singapore will continue efforts to educate students on appropriate behaviours and laws that protect them against sexual abuse and harassment either online or in-person. “Refreshed” Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) in schools, gradually implemented since 2021, “emphasizes moral values, cyber wellness, and the importance of respecting personal boundaries online and in person”.4 While targeting younger users of digital space at an early age through school curricula is an excellent way of sensitising users of the various dangers lurking online, equal emphasis should be placed on the creation of content and services, (upstream) the flow of information (along various pathways) and consumption of information and content (downstream). This would include appropriate checks and follow-up actions at each of these points along the value chain, and periodic evaluations of these checks and actions to assess their effectiveness in protecting users, female users in particular.
This NTS Insight examines the commitment to create online safe spaces for women and girls in Singapore. An online safe space is a virtual platform where women and girls can freely state their opinions, seek support, and engage in discussions without fear of harassment or judgment. Safe spaces can also be spaces where women and girls feel free to express themselves on common digital fora without any repercussions. This space will have to be governed with a gendered understanding of the use of different online platforms. The central premise of the Insight lies in why there is a need for such spaces and recommends additional measures to ensure that online violence against women and girls is eradicated.
Quantum Technology has developed in a gradual process from the 1980s to the present, which was mostly unnoticed by the general public. US politicians became aware of its potential for national and economic security in 2016 when the US intelligence community recognized the threat posed by quantum code-cracking computers, which led to an increase of funding various research programs in Quantum Technology.
Quantum computing is identified as a game-changing technology with the concept of ‘quantum supremacy’ suggesting that quantum computers could outperform classical computers in complex calculations. It operates differently from classical computers, using the principles of quantum mechanics to process information.
Japan’s decision to gradually release treated Fukushima water into the Pacific Ocean has been found to be scientifically safe, using innovative technological solutions. However, decisions based on science and technology need to be backed by efforts to build trust and confidence at multiple levels amidst politicisation of the issue and threats to the health of our oceans.
Japan’s plan to begin discharging treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station into the Pacific Ocean on 24 August 2023 has been met with mixed responses within and outside Japan. The decision to release the treated radioactive water was done after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had completed a comprehensive two-year technical review of the safety-related aspects regarding the handling and discharging of the treated water. The IAEA issued its review report on 4 July 2023.
Against the intense geopolitical tensions in East Asia involving Japan and its neighbours, and the growing concerns about the multiple threats to the health of our oceans, Japan had to find ways to reassure and to address the criticisms of its neighbours, environmental activists and its local fishing communities. Decisions based on science and technology still need to be backed by efforts to build trust and confidence at multiple levels.
The Controversial Japanese Plan
For many years, the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, had collected the plant’s highly radioactive water, and stored them in special tanks on site to prevent them from polluting the environment.
To date, tanks on the site store about 1.3 million tonnes of radioactive water, equivalent to 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. In treating the contaminated water, TEPCO had installed the Advance Liquid Processing System (APLS), a pumping and filtration system, which removed most of the hazardous isotopes from the water, leaving only tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is hard to separate. TEPCO will dilute the treated water until its tritium level falls below the regulatory limit – when it is considered safe for drinking under World Health Organization standards – before pumping it into the Pacific.
The discharge of the treated water will not be done all at once. Japan plans to release the treated water gradually over several decades. By the end of this fiscal year, TEPCO intends to release 31,200 tonnes of the water.
Trusting the Scientists and Technical Safety Assessments
The safe discharge of the stored water in the vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear plant needs to proceed with the decommissioning of the plant. The decision of Japan, with the strong backing of IAEA’s scientific review, is not merely about easing the financial burden of TEPCO in maintaining the water tanks. The larger and more important issues are the complete decommissioning of the nuclear station and ultimately, the much-needed reconstruction in Fukushima prefecture.
The IAEA safety report confirmed that tritium does not cause significant damage to the environment if kept within regulatory levels. However, it can be dangerous to humans if it enters the body in highly concentrated levels, a risk which the APLS system was intended to avoid. For over 60 years, waste water containing tritium had been routinely released by nuclear plants around the world at the level deemed to be safe for the marine ecosystem.
The IAEA safety report had concluded that that the approach and actions taken by TEPCO, the Japanese government, and its regulatory body, the Nuclear Regulation Agency, for the discharge were consistent with international safety standards, and that the radiological impact on people and the environment would be negligible. The safety standards followed were stringent and based on 11 key IAEA nuclear safety documents developed by nuclear experts from IAEA member states over the years.
Furthermore, the IAEA Task Force that contributed to the report comprised experts from the IAEA Secretariat alongside internationally recognised independent experts (with extensive experience from a wide range of technical specialties) from Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, France, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
The IAEA acknowledged that the release of the Fukushima nuclear plant’s treated water has stoked societal, political and environmental concerns associated with the feared radiological impacts on the marine ecosystem. However, independent marine and nuclear scientists, while acknowledging that the method for treating the waste water is controversial, believed that it will not harm the oceans and cause safety issues to marine food supply.
Public Trust Issues
Despite safety assurances from the IAEA, the Japanese government, and various technical experts, Tokyo’s announcement on the commencement of the discharge on 24 August was met by an angry response from China, which banned the import of all seafood from Japan. Hong Kong and Macau also imposed import bans on Japanese seafood, but partially. The South Korean government would not endorse the plan although it did not object to the scientific basis of the water release plan.
Japanese domestic stakeholders, including especially Fukushima’s fisherfolks, have raised reputational concerns given that Japanese and foreign consumers will avoid Japanese fish and seafood products, which would also impact on their livelihoods even before any meaningful recovery from the 2011 nuclear disaster had taken place.
As for the Japanese anti-nuclear movement, and environmental and community groups from Japan and the neighbouring countries, the water release was tantamount to “dumping nuclear-contaminated water into the sea”, notwithstanding that the Fukushima water had been treated and found safe in accordance with strict safety standards.
In the years ahead, regaining the trust of its neighbours and the Fukushima communities will be an uphill task for Japan. Even when a scientific innovation becomes available to solve a nuclear problem, it will have to deal with environmental activists and politicisation of the issue. For the discharge of waste water from the Fukushima nuclear plant and the reconstruction of the prefecture, the concerns that will arise during the decades-long discharge plan need to be addressed by continued scientific transparency and effective public communication on the part of Japan and the IAEA.
Public Communication and Scientific Transparency
Japan and the IAEA have been transparent in its approach and actions on the matter. This open, nothing-to-hide policy will help to restore public trust. Therefore, regular updates, and sharing of information, including scientific data, post-release assessments, and engagements with international and domestic stakeholders, through effective public communication, would be necessary.
About the Authors
Mely Caballero-Anthony is Professor of International Relations and Associate Dean (International Engagement) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. She is also the Head of the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS Centre) at RSIS. Julius Cesar Trajano is Research Fellow at the NTS Centre, RSIS.
The 2022 WorldFish Annual Report, titled “Harnessing Aquatic Food Systems for Sustainable Development” showcases seven stories of change, evidencing that shared prosperity can be attained for millions through sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. The report also gives a glimpse into digital innovations that are enabling data-driven policies and practices and bridging data gaps to tackle systemic barriers—interventions that will be transformative in enabling equal access for low-income and marginalized groups and small-scale actors in the value chains. Country-responsive solutions pivotal to driving sustainable and scalable impact were co-developed in collaboration with a wide range of partners. Dive into the gradual but steady transformation of food, land, and water systems with aquatic foods at their core through stories of fishers, farmers, and coastal communities curated in this report.
Gaps in humanitarian responses to recent crises such as COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war show that approaches informed by past experiences are insufficient to deal with today’s threats and risks, not to mention those in the future. A shift to future-oriented approaches is needed for organisations with humanitarian roles and responsibilities to be prepared for challenges ahead. The notion of humanitarian futures, which emphasises adaptation, anticipation, and innovation, provides an alternative perspective to develop humanitarian policy. This report discusses what humanitarian futures stands for, identifies what capability enhancement measures are needed for organisations to meet future humanitarian challenges, particularly those in Southeast Asia. It also proposes practical ways the regional humanitarian community can prepare for the future.
The Indo-Pacific is the region most prone to natural hazards and sea-level rise compounded by the effects of climate change. Viewed as a direct security concern for the impact caused by extreme weather events, climate change is also seen as a threat multiplier that worsens underlying political, social, and economic conditions, strains resources, and reduces military readiness. Coupled with the geopolitical realities of the region, the impact of climate change on regional security illustrates the need for defence and security cooperation. This can be achieved by establishing a comprehensive climate security framework that reflects the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) interests and ambitions regarding military contributions towards tackling the climate crisis and its impacts. It would further provide dialogue partners with entry points for engagement and an avenue to connect climate security initiatives across the Indo-Pacific region.
A half – yearly compilation of the latest activities and publications in NTS-Asia Consortium.
Climate change processes are acknowledged as critical components of regional and international security, and ASEAN should mobilise all segments of its population and existing plans of action to tackle this challenge. The role of women in ASEAN’s peace and security including climate change should be acknowledged and strengthened systematically. The ASEAN Women, Peace and Security Regional Plan of Action offers such an opportunity for increased regional cooperation and resilience.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) calls on the international community to incorporate gender perspectives in frameworks analysing international security issues. There is growing debate on the relationship between climate security and women that is merging with existing literature on women and armed conflict.
An understanding of women’s vulnerabilities in climate change is essential to understanding the magnitude and urgency of the issue and should be investigated and addressed as an integral part of ASEAN’s climate security architecture. ASEAN could pursue this through its WPS Regional Plan of Action (RPA).
Women and Climate Change
The UN has already begun to broach the intersection between climate change, and women and security, arguing the connection between resource scarcity and violent conflicts and proposing the strengthening of women’s networks to engage in dialogue and mediation processes around natural resources management. The effects of climate change have broad gendered implications due to the entrenched inequalities women face in accessing and managing key resources such as water, food and energy. In understanding women’s role in climate change, it is essential to understand their role in making decisions about natural resources and how these decisions manifest regionally.
Take the water sector for example. Successful and effective water projects are vital in a new climate reality. There is evidence that water projects designed and run with the inclusion of women to the maximum extent possible are more likely to succeed in the long term. However, the reality is that women across Asia and the Pacific lack representation at the management level in the water sector.
The argument for more active participation by women in discussions on climate change and food security is borne out by the 2021 OECD report, which stated that over a quarter of the female labour force in Southeast Asia worked in the agriculture industry and in food production. And, according to the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development held in March 2022, 48-75 per cent of employed women worked in the agriculture and agricultural value chains in Cambodia, Myanmar, Lao PDR and Vietnam.
Women are also under-represented in the energy sector in Southeast Asia. This under-representation is partly due to sociocultural norms, which limit the presence of women in employment and hence impeding the move towards a gender-just energy transition.
It is this author’s assessment that policymaking should include the participation of women and should cover all levels – from grassroots to corporations – to ensure equitable decision-making on vital resources. We have to recontextualise our understanding of security and climate change to include gendered understandings of adaptation to and mitigation of the impacts of climate change.
By not integrating gender analysis into every level of security discourse, climate security policies will continue to miss the crucial inputs of women in analysing the catalysts of social fractures, like increasing gender and class divisions, and discrimination, as well as seizing opportunities for innovative adaptation and mitigation strategies.
WPS Regional Plan of Action in ASEAN
The WPS RPA is a result of decades of political engagement in the ASEAN region as expressed by the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region (2004), and the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Women (2015).
ASEAN leaders also adopted the Joint Statement on Promoting WPS in the region in 2017. In addition, the ASEAN Ministerial Dialogue on Strengthening Women’s Role for Sustainable Peace and Security in 2020 further drove the integration of WPS across the three ASEAN community pillars, which are: Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community.
The ASEAN WPS RPA, launched in December 2022, is the latest regional effort to further acknowledge and increase sensitivity to women’s role in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
While we applaud the launch of a regional plan on WPS in ASEAN, we should not lose sight of this opportunity to make the agenda work for the region by including new threats, such as climate change. Adopting ASEAN’s own version of a WPS RPA independently without emulating RPAs from elsewhere, most of which focus on the threat of armed conflict, would go a long way to ensure the success of the agenda here. I take my cue from the growing global conversations on WPS and climate security.
Acknowledging the threats of climate change facing women is a start, especially in vital areas of economic, food, water, energy, and health securities, as well as complex emergencies that result from natural hazards and human insecurities. All of these will only be exacerbated by climate change.
One way of addressing these concerns in an inclusive manner would be through the integration of the four WPS pillars, i.e., protection, prevention, participation and women’s active role in relief and recovery, as essential parts of the existing climate security architecture, and not to see women as an area of ‘special interest’; subjective and analysed outside of existing climate adaptation and mitigation frameworks.
Beyond ASEAN Community 2025
In planning to move beyond the ASEAN Community 2025 agenda, existing regional frameworks should look to merging concerns for a better appreciation of threats to different groups of people. One such merger should be that between frameworks that address violence against women and gender inequality, and those that address climate change.
Policymakers will need to adopt cross-cutting approaches to incorporate gender into their areas of expertise to mutually feed into their policy gaps. In this way, ASEAN will fully utilise and strengthen existing frameworks to address concerns around gender equality, climate security, and peace in the region. This would help to identify policy blind spots that might compromise the effectiveness and reach of climate change policies. This is also a good way to maximise the advantages of having an ASEAN WPS RPA.
About the Author
Tamara Nair is Research Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. She is also Coordinator of Projects (Women and Children in ASEAN Community) at RSIS, and Singapore’s representative to the ASEAN Women for Peace Registry.
We are increasingly living in a digital ecosystem, where Artificial Intelligence (AI) research plays a significant part in exploring the potential interface between digitalisation and human lives. Yet, inclusivity, especially women’s involvement, is still relatively insignificant in this arena. To ensure that AI can effectively serve and make sensitive decisions about the many aspects of people’s lives, it would be important that the development and governance of AI involved individuals who are representative of the society it aims to transform and serve. Furthermore, the lack of female involvement in this field creates feedback loops that cause gender bias in AI and machine learning systems. If AI systems are not developed by diverse teams, their ability to cater to society’s needs, align with the human rights, and protect the welfare of diverse users will be limited.