The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies and the Embassy of the Philippines jointly organised a panel discussion on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in Southeast Asia at the RSIS Lecture Theatre on 21 July 2017. The Ambassador of the Philippines H.E. Antonio Morales and Assoc Prof Mely Caballero-Anthony, Head of the NTS Centre, in their welcome remarks, highlighted the achievements of ASEAN in promoting and protecting women’s rights in recent years and the relevance of the WPS agenda in the region where women are among the vulnerable groups in both conflict and natural disaster settings.
Panel speakers include Dr Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University; Ms. Rahimah Abdulrahim Executive Director, The Habibie Centre in Jakarta; and Ms. Katrina Jorene Maliamauv Programme Officer, Tenaganita Sdn Bhd in Kuala Lumpur. Dr Rallonza argued that the WPS agenda needs to be applied to both natural disaster and armed conflict settings. Given that several ASEAN Member States have been plagued by protracted conflicts and natural disasters, there is a need to locate gender issues, particularly the protection of women’s rights, in the interface of armed conflicts and natural disasters. Dr Rallonza reviewed several institutional mechanisms and policy initiatives of the Philippines, along with other ASEAN Member States in enhancing the WPS agenda. She proposed the creation of a regional technical working group in ASEAN to draft a regional plan of action on mainstreaming women’s rights protection in both conflict and disaster situations in Southeast Asia.
Ms. Rahimah discussed the level of women’s participation in politics and public policymaking in Southeast Asia. To illustrate the limited participation of women in politics, she cited the low percentage of female members of parliaments and cabinets in ASEAN Member States. Due to deeply rooted institutional limitations to increased female participation in politics, she recognized the role of CSOs in advancing civic engagement for women by women. CSOs can provide women the political space to organise and articulate their rights. Nonetheless, there is an urgent need to have institutional reforms to increase women’s access to politics and policymaking.
Ms. Maliamauv focused on the plights of abused female migrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking in Southeast Asia. She presented case studies of abused female domestic workers and Rohingya refugees and accentuated the lack of protection agenda for this vulnerable sector at the regional and national levels in Southeast Asia. The particular use of language and its power in determining mindsets, with reference to female migrant workers especially in national legislation, was also a concern that was highlighted by Ms Maliamauv.
The open forum discussions explored several mechanisms that can mainstream the WPS agenda at various levels, from ASEAN, to national governments, business sector and down to communities. The security sector, including the military, for instance, needs to be constructively engaged in and sensitised to the protection of women’s rights, given that the military is a main actor in both armed conflicts and disaster response operations in the region. More importantly, there must be a change of mindset at various levels in terms of the role of women, their access to security, including human security, and their inherent vulnerabilities in conflict and disaster settings.