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Southeast Asia, Forging Ahead on Women, Peace and Security


The secretary-general of Asean, Dato Lim Jock Hoi of Brunei, center left, posing with other Asean members, in their typical hand-holding style, in the United Nations Security Council, after a meeting on cooperation between the UN and Asean on international peace and security, Jan. 30, 2020. The regional organization has made strides in enhancing the role of women in peacekeeping and as global mediators, among other achievements, but the Covid-19 era demands more work on all fronts toward gender equality, the author writes. 

SINGAPORE — With two Asean members, Vietnam and Indonesia, currently sitting in the United Nations Security Council, the region has advanced Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. This is the first global framework that addresses the changing nature of conflicts, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, the issues of exclusion and injustice and the importance of women’s participation in peace and development.

As the 2020 Association for Southeast Asian Nations’ chair, Vietnam has focused on enhancing the leadership and roles of women in sustainable peace, security and development; and Indonesia championed women in peacekeeping when it was rotating president of the Security Council in August 2020.

This year is pivotal for revitalizing the commitment to achieving gender equality and empowerment for women everywhere. It marks the 75th anniversary of the UN, the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1325 resolution. Over the last two decades, countries across the globe have increasingly recognized that women’s meaningful participation in peace and security matters not only ensures respect for their human rights but is also fundamental to building a solid base for sustainable peace and just societies and to prevent future conflicts.

Asean’s Commitment to 1325

In Southeast Asia, Asean leaders issued a joint statement on promoting women, peace and security at the 31st summit in 2017 and worked closely with the UN in carrying out the WPS agenda in the region.

Asean and the UN organized the first dedicated Track 1.5 regional dialogue on women, peace and security as well as women’s roles in preventing violent extremism in 2017, bringing together Asean governments and women’s civil society. In December 2018, the organization launched a women’s peace registry and arranged the first Asean symposium on women, peace and security in August 2019.

An Asean panel, “The Role of Women Mediators in the Maintenance of Regional Peace and Security,” was held in July 2020 to set up a Southeast Asia Network of Women Peace Mediators, with strong support of Indonesia. The new Security Council resolution on women and peacekeeping operations, adopted during Indonesia’s presidency of the Council in August, will increase the number of women peacekeepers. As another elected Council member, Vietnam is the host of the International 20th Anniversary Conference on WPS, now underway from Dec. 7-9, concentrating on strengthening women’s roles in sustaining and peace-building. Much has been done, yet so much remains to be tackled because of the changing peace and security landscape.

Indeed, four new issues need to promote the WPS agenda:

• Covid-19, More Than a Health Pandemic

The pandemic is more than a health crisis; it is an economic, security and human-rights crisis. It has not stopped conflicts but has created immense constraints to sustaining peace, human rights and human development and to addressing planet security. The security sustainable development nexus and opportunities for regional cooperation are critical for response and recovery.

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Our concept of security will need to include health security and climate security; addressing inequalities; and upholding human rights and good governance. Women are already working and living at the front lines, responding to the needs of people affected by the health pandemic, conflict and disasters. They are more crucial than ever to stop further fracturing of societies and for restoring confidence as we remake our communities to protect and deliver critical public goods.

Global Cease-Fire and Conflict Prevention

UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for a global cease-fire earlier this year was endorsed by all Asean leaders on Nov. 15. With the cease-fire, Guterres has put conflict prevention at the top of his agenda, stressing that sustaining peace requires infrastructure that incorporates the values and institutions that can make peace happen.

Asean countries have successfully sustained peace regionally. But several countries are affected by subnational conflicts and intercommunal tensions. Now is the time to urgently promote social cohesion, build trust with communities and invest in community-led resilience-and-response systems; there are already examples of how women in police forces and as peacekeepers have created such confidence in the societies where they work. The new Asean network of women mediators will be an important addition to this effort.

• Cybersecurity, Misinformation and Hate Speech

In the age of social media, the misinformation, hate speech and narratives in the public arena can hinder efforts to tackling the main causes of conflicts and forging political solutions to grievances. We need to be better at converting early warning into early action by using all tools, including mediation, to respond to emerging tensions and to fight discrimination and xenophobia intensified by the pandemic. We urgently need to focus on cybersecurity, digital literacy and bridging the digital divide affecting women.

• People on the Move and Violence Against Women

The effects of Covid-19 are especially hard for the millions of people who are on the move, such as low-wage migrants, victims of trafficking and refugees fleeing persecution. Tighter border controls complicate these people’s access to protection, with hundreds of refugees stranded at sea in the Asean region, for example. Many refugees are women, and girls are being forced into child marriage because of their unbearable situations.

The rise of extremism has increased the closing of spaces for women and to rising violence against women. Guterres has issued a global call emphasizing that all violence against women should end not just in conflicts but everywhere, including in the home, especially during the pandemic lockdowns.

The WPS agenda will need to address every one of these problems in the ever-changing peace and security landscape to leverage the full, equal and meaningful leadership and participation of women across the globe. That entails everything from political decision-making to peace-building to the pandemic response in order to secure a future of shared prosperity.


Noeleen Heyzer, a member of the UN secretary-general’s high-level advisory board on mediation, is a distinguished fellow of the Singapore Management University and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. She was formerly the executive director of Unifem, the precursor to UN Women; as an under secretary-general, she was also the first woman appointed executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap).

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Southeast Asia, Forging Ahead on Women, Peace and Security
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Adem Carroll, JFA
3 years ago

This article states that all ASEAN leaders endorsed the Global Ceasefire on November 15. This call by the Secretary General was made many months before, [so] the real news is why ASEAN delayed so long. Moreover, in Myanmar, the Burmese military has refused to heed to stand down, despite unilateral ceasefires from several ethnic armies. Instead, they have continued to displace and kill civilians and to lockdown and disenfranchise the population in ethnic minority regions.

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