ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Thanks to Her Excellency Bintang Puspayoga for that introduction, and just now for giving me the floor. I’m grateful for your leadership as the Co-Chair for today’s ASEAN-U.S. Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Ministerial Dialogue – and I know this is the first in history, but hopefully surely not the last.
I would also like to thank the ASEAN Secretariat, under the leadership of His Excellency Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, for its support in making today’s dialogue possible. Welcome everyone who has joined, thank you so much for being here.
I want to begin today with a story from Indonesia.
It’s a story about Siti Maimunah, a student at the University of Jember and one of Indonesia’s emerging entrepreneurs. Eager to apply her skills in entrepreneurship in the real world, Siti joined her university’s community service program – a USAID-supported program that connects students studying business and entrepreneurship with local companies. The program connected Siti with Lokatara, a local t-shirt company whose name means “extraordinary.” Despite my bad pronunciation, I’m sure.
And that pretty much sums up Siti’s work with the company – extraordinary. When she joined Lokatara in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the company was in dire straits. Everything was outsourced or rented – equipment, property, labor – which drove up the costs of running the business. And the company was bringing in only three million Rupiahs a month – less than $200, not enough to pay all of their employees.
Siti convinced Lokatara’s owner to take out a loan to cover production costs in-house. She created a marketing plan that brought in a flood of new sales. And she helped expand those sales by making Lokatara more accessible, creating profiles on internet mapping apps, accepting electronic payments, and selling in online shops. Her efforts helped Lokatara bring in more than 64 million Rupiahs a month – more than a 2,000 percent increase from when she first began working with the company.
Siti is just one of over 37,000 young people in Indonesia who have been trained in this USAID-sponsored program, more than 60 percent of them are women. That’s in a country where less than 52 percent of women who are eligible to work do so, compared to more than 80 percent of their male counterparts.
Investing in women we all know, at least all of us here today, is a moral imperative, but it’s an economic one as well. The research is clear – when women are placed on an equal footing, they drive economic growth. A study published last year found that bringing more women into the workforce could, in fact, add $370 billion to ASEAN economies.
So far, no country in the world has succeeded in achieving gender parity and a report released this year by the World Economic Forum shows that at our current pace, global gender parity is another 132 years away. That is why USAID seeks to support women in every area of society – to lower barriers to education, employment, and healthcare; to respond to and prevent gender-based violence; and to honor the crucial role women play in fighting our most existential threats – from the food crisis to climate change.
Progress in the ASEAN region is key to our success. The region is home to more than 330 million women and girls, many of whom are still striving to reach their full potential. Investing in them will pay dividends for economies in the ASEAN region and the Indo-Pacific. And as Indo-Pacific economies drive more than two-thirds of global economic growth, the rest of the world would benefit as well.
Our work on gender equality and women’s empowerment throughout the region signals our Agency’s – and indeed, the entire U.S. Government’s – vision of a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. But for our success to be responsive to needs, effective in impact, and sustainable over time, our partnership with ASEAN – the body that strengthens bilateral cooperation and shapes regional priorities – is crucial.
That’s why I’m pleased to chair this session – the formal start of USAID’s long-term engagement on gender equity with ASEAN. It is a mark of the U.S. Government’s commitment to our long-standing partnership – one that celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, one that has helped promote peace, stability, and prosperity throughout Southeast Asia.
This dialogue is going to help us expand and coordinate our existing work supporting women and girls in the region – by strengthening ties with you, our partner governments; by allowing us to coordinate our efforts in every country pursuing gender equality; and by elevating the importance of gender issues on the regional stage.
Today, as we begin this historic dialogue, on behalf of the United States, I’d like to reiterate our strong commitment to the values of this alliance – openness, connectivity, equality, and freedom for all.
Administrator Samantha Power’s Remarks during Exchange of Views
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thanks to all the participants for their engagement and their statements and thanks to you, Co-chair. Earlier, Jennifer Klein highlighted the U.S. government’s deep commitment to the empowerment of women and girls in Southeast Asia. At USAID, as some of the speakers have made reference to, we share that commitment. But we also recognize that change is most enduring – and change is led and driven by the communities and the countries – of course, of which we serve.
So, last October during the ASEAN-U.S. Summit, we worked directly with the governments you all represent to align our existing and future work – to make sure, to the best of our ability, that we were supporting you in your most important priorities.
From those conversations and dialogues came four new focus areas for gender equality and empowerment in ASEAN countries.
First is what we call gender mainstreaming – or integrating gender equity into all of our work, from political reform to economic growth to fighting climate change.
Second, our women’s economic empowerment work seeks to lower barriers to employment, entrepreneurship, and education for women and girls, allowing them to become full members of the workforce.
Third, our work implementing the UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace, and Security acknowledges that women play a crucial role in fostering regional peace and security – but that they can only play such a role when they themselves can meaningfully participate in their communities and societies.
And finally, our commitment to gender-based violence prevention and response highlights the prevalence of violence, particularly against women and girls, across the region – and the importance of considering and preventing this violence in every aspect of our work.
The Joint Statement of this dialogue, which will be released after this session, outlines these four priority areas. And USAID is committed to working with ASEAN on programming and progress on each.
But as with any of our partnerships, our work on the ground is most effective when met with a government committed to promoting and protecting the rights and safety of all women and girls. It is an understatement to say we don’t see that kind of commitment in Myanmar.
The United States condemns the regime’s escalating violence, including sexual violence against its own men, women, and children. Five years ago, this same regime committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, which included in a well-documented manner, using rape as a tool of war. And that persecution continues today.
We recognize that the Myanmar regime will attempt to cast its planned elections next year as a return to democracy. But we all know that they are not. These sham elections will have no chance of being free or fair, as the regime erases gains made in women’s political participation in 2020, and kills and imprisons many in the opposition, including many of the women, including of course imprisoning the most notable Aung San Suu Kyi.
The United States remains deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Myanmar, including its impact on women and girls. It undermines all the work we are here to promote today.
But I’m pleased to say that USAID is working to support women and girls across Southeast Asia, both through our relationship with ASEAN and with individual governments.
In January of this year, we developed and launched the ASEAN Gender Mainstreaming Strategic Framework, which will incorporate gender equity into every element of ASEAN’s work, and direct individual governments to do the same. It’s an articulation of what we all know to be true: that gender is not an issue we can isolate and solve independently, but one that is woven into every challenge we are working to address.
That is especially true in the fight against climate change – a threat which disproportionately affects women and girls, particularly in ASEAN countries. Yet, cultural norms often prevent women from studying or pursuing careers in STEM fields that are relevant to the climate fight. And women are often left out of discussions around national strategies to address climate change, unable to influence policies that directly impact their lives and livelihoods.
USAID is working with partners on the ground to try to change that. We’re collaborating with the ASEAN Center for Energy to implement workshops, trainings, and scholarships for women and girls studying and working in STEM and energy fields. And through our Regional Mission in Bangkok, we’re helping civil society organizations advocate for the rights of women and girls when writing policies to plan for climate change, giving them a seat at the table to determine their own futures.
We’re working to economically empower women, both through our partnership with ASEAN and on a bilateral level, by embracing digital learning. Just a few months ago, we relaunched an improved version of the ASEAN SME Academy, a web platform that provides more than 95 courses – all accessible in local languages – for small and medium-sized businesses, more than half of which are run by women. And during the height of COVID, we partnered with foundations and private sector companies to provide virtual training and skills development opportunities for nearly 10,000 women entrepreneurs in Indonesia and Vietnam.
And we’re committing resources to protect migrant domestic workers across the region, who lack labor and social protections afforded to other sectors of economies – and who are predominantly women. We’re strengthening fair and ethical recruitment practices for domestic workers, establishing and bolstering support networks and protective services, and expanding access to skills training for all who want or need the skills.
Through the implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Act, USAID is incorporating gender issues into our work to promote peace and security – acknowledging not only that conflict disproportionately affects women but that women are often left out of the meetings and institutions that are designed to protect them. They are underrepresented in police forces, justice systems, and other security mechanisms, and they are often barred from participating, let alone leading, on peace negotiations.
To counter this, we partnered with ASEAN, under Cambodia’s leadership, to develop its first-ever Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace, and Security, a critical step to spur country-level action plans to expand and strengthen women’s involvement in peace and security issues. And we’re supporting a women-led network of peacebuilding experts to advocate for, and represent, women’s interests when designing policies to promote peace and security – to create stability that protects women, as well.
Finally, we’re working with partner governments to respond to and prevent instances of gender-based violence, which often prevent women from participating equally in schools, in the workforce, and in society. In Cambodia last year, we trained men and women at nearly 300 unions, federations, associations, and confederations to address gender-based violence in the workforce. Some unions used that training to collect data on gender-based violence in the garment sectors and recommended safety measures like policy changes, security equipment, collaborations with local authorities, and management training.
In the Philippines, as the onset of the pandemic trapped many women at home with abusive family members and as we saw incidents of gender-based violence begin to rise, we worked with Lunas Collective, a civil society organization based at the University of the Philippines, to launch FamiLigtas, or Safe Family, an online campaign against gender-based violence during the pandemic. It caught the attention of not just the news media but celebrities, influencers, and media personalities – including two Miss Universe winners – and reached nearly 16 million people.
The campaign helped drive a national dialogue on the issue throughout the country – its helpline chat, run by volunteers, has served more than 1,000 people, the majority of which reached out for support related to gender-based violence. And it inspired local actions across the country, like better referral systems for gender-based violence and training in gender sensitivity when providing survivor-centered care.
USAID’s work alongside these four focus areas – gender mainstreaming; women’s economic empowerment; women, peace and security; and gender-based violence response and prevention – would not be possible without your partnership, a partnership that is doing so much good for the ASEAN region and its people. We hope you will see our continuing efforts as a mark of the United States’ commitment not just to your communities, but also to the ASEAN-U.S. alliance – one we see as critical to our efforts to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all.