2014 – The Year of Women, Peace and Security for ASEAN

Amongst the member states of the Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), civil unrest, conflict and post conflict situations have been significantly reduced from its violent past.  This is a commendable success.  However, there remain serious situations where civilians are at high risk of human rights violence, physical abuse and death.  Myanmar continues to experience high level violence and conflict across its territory, the Philippine government and military continue to seek a ceasefire and peaceful resolution to the Mindanao secessionist movement, and over the last 15 years the state of Indonesia has undergone dramatic democratic transition, ceded independence to East Timor after a bloody protracted conflict and secured a ceasefire with secessionist guerrilla movement in autonomous province of Aceh.  Thailand is struggling with ongoing domestic political instability, and Cambodia is still recovering from one of the worst genocides witnessed in the 20th century.

All of these events dramatically affect the peace and security of civilians. As noted in landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), however, these situations of civil unrest and conflict affect women differently to men. Specifically, women are more likely to be politically excluded, financially disadvantaged and face a higher risk of personal insecurity in conflict and post conflict situations.

ASEAN flags by Prachatai. Retrieved from Flickr.com, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

ASEAN flags by Prachatai. Retrieved from Flickr.com, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Despite the pressing need of the three-pillar Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda (prevention, peace building and political participation) to frame regional engagement in these situations; to date, the institutional structure of ASEAN has precluded deeper engagement with WPS as a political-security concern.  As we outline in our forthcoming article in the Special Issue on Women, Peace and Security for the Australian Journal of International Affairs (2014), when the role and participation of women is discussed in ASEAN documents and dialogue on the political security agenda, the primary focus is on women’s protection. There are few references to women as actors who can engage in peacebuilding, security sector reform and conflict prevention.

In the last year, however, we have seen promising signs from the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN Human Rights Working Group, in cooperation with UN Women, to address this gap and we would like to suggest 2014 to mobilise activity and events to support this movement towards addressing the WPS gap in the ASEAN membership and regional organization.

The Importance of Regional Commitments

Regional action plans serve to amplify the comparative strengths of WPS policy and programming among member states, exchange and record expert knowledge and best practice, pool financial and human resources, and apply positive pressure for member states to share responsibility and accountability for reaching common WPS objectives. The benefits are not operational alone: by committing to support member states to implement the WPS agenda, regional arrangements send a strong normative message to national peace and security institutions that their legitimacy is enhanced by WPS responsive policies and priorities.  This investment requires considered donor support to facilitate such institutional investment.

The ASEAN Secretariat, with the assistance of supportive donor states such as United States of America, Australia, European Union and Canada, would be well placed to host a workshop dedicated on Women, Peace and Security that engages cross-pillar attendance. For example, a Joint Dialogue Workshop on 1325, co-hosted by the ASEAN Political-Security Community and Socio-Economic Community, could be convened to discuss the process for cross-community regional engagement in the development of an ASEAN 1325 action plan.  Specifically, this would be an opportunity to consult ASEAN members and Secretariat concerning the creation of a WPS expert role or a gender team within the political-security division of the ASEAN Secretariat.

ASEAN is under constant financial pressure: in order to maintain the‘one voice, one vote’ principle, member contributions are equal but this means that the contribution has to be affordable for both low-income and high-income states.  As a result, the Jakarta based Secretariat is approximately 260 staff, with a budget of $15 million per annum, compared to European Union budget of $120 billion.  Australia is regionally and diplomatically well placed to recognise and provide institutional support required by the ASEAN Secretariat.  As Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Penny Williams, signalled at a regional conference in 2013:

We have identified gender equality as a critical cross-cutting theme across Australia’s aid program and all our aid activities must satisfy the criteria that they advance gender equality and promote the role of women at the design, implementation and evaluation stages.

While Australia has a strong record of supporting regional workshops and initiatives on the prevention of violence against women, gender equality and gender political participation, often in partnership with ASEAN members, there remains a need for greater investment by donors on regional institutional capacity concerning gender issues in situations where conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building is taking place. Given the international commitments that Australia outlined just last year, and our existing relationship with ASEAN concerning gender mainstreaming, there is the potential for Australian government to provide a supportive role in assisting ASEAN engage in dialogue on a regional WPS action plan.

Sara Davies, Kimberly Nackers and Sarah Teitt, Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

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