Minister Ing Kanthaphavi talks about ASEAN's major achievements over the past five years and explains the priorities and plans of the sector in the coming years. She also reflects on the changing employment landscape and how it impacts women in the workplace.
The ASEAN Committee on Women‘s (ACW) Work Plan for 2016–2020 outlined several priority areas, including gender mainstreaming in all the three pillars of ASEAN, eliminating violence against women, and promoting female leadership. How well did ACW achieve its target outcomes in these priority areas?
During the past five years, ACW contributed actively to developing gender-responsive ASEAN declarations, statements, and regional plans of actions, which the ASEAN Leaders adopted. (Box 1)
The achievements in the implementation of ACW Work Plan 2016–2020 contributed
to ASEAN Leaders’ and people’s awareness and acknowledgement that women are an untapped potential for ASEAN growth.
The empowerment of women and girls and gender equality are the prerequisites to building an inclusive and dynamic ASEAN community, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all, and ensuring no one is left behind. ACW has achieved significant progress in six key thematic areas as follows: the promotion of women leadership, changing social norms and gender stereotypes, gender mainstreaming across the three ASEAN Community pillars, the elimination of violence against women, economic empowerment of women, and protection of women in vulnerable situations. (Box 2)
Can you elaborate on the priorities and plans of ACW in the next few years? What outcomes are you expecting to see?
The ACW work plan was drafted through consultative and participatory processes with relevant ASEAN bodies and civil society organisations in the region. These are based on lessons learnt and current developments in ASEAN. These are the priority areas and their expected outcomes:
Gender Data and Statistics
Increased capacity of ASEAN and national statistics offices to generate and disseminate gender-responsive data to all users; and government, civil society, and the private sector can analyse and use gender-disaggregate data for policies and programmes, especially in the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework or consolidated exit strategy from the COVID-19 pandemic, to achieve the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the SDGs, and leave no one behind.
Increased capacity of sectoral bodies in the three ASEAN pillars in the areas of gender analysis, gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting towards the achievement of the ASEAN Declaration on the Gender-Responsive Implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and SDGs.
Gender-responsive Climate and Disaster Resilience
Increased understanding of the importance of women’s participation and leadership in disaster risk management, climate change adaptation planning, and decision- making at all levels to enhance the resilience of vulnerable people to disaster and climate change.
Gender Approach to Enhancing Safety and Protection of Women and Girls
Implementation of the comprehensive legal framework on violence against women and children in all ASEAN countries; changes in social norms and behaviour in ASEAN societies to reflect zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women and children; and better protection and timely recovery support services for victims of violence.
Women, Peace and Security
Implementation of the Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security, resulting in substantive participation of women in peacebuilding, conflict prevention, socio-economic recovery, and post-conflict situations.
Women’s Economic Empowerment
Gender-responsive policies that value informal and unpaid care work and that foster equal access of women to education and skills development in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), decent work, business opportunities for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) of women in the digital economy, and social protection; increased women’s representation and leadership in executive and managerial positions; and strengthened public-private partnership for inclusive business and human resource development.
Gender Responsive Governance and Leadership
Increased number and meaningful participation of women in decision-making in public, private and political spheres.
At the regional level, we have seen promising achievements and trends as the first ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit was held last year, along with the incorporation of women as catalysts and agents of change as a key component of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework. With crucial support from the ASEAN Secretariat, ACW also launched the ASEAN Gender Outlook, a milestone step to strengthen our gender data and statistics capacity. I am looking forward to developing the Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security, operationalising the Regional Strategic Framework on Gender Mainstreaming, and engaging with the proactive ACW in addressing unpaid care and domestic work.
How will emerging changes in the employment landscape, such as artificial intelligence and automation, impact women in the workplace?
It is impossible to predict how emerging, new, and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, big data analytics, advanced robotics, quantum computing, and new forms of automation will transform and shape work and economies around the globe. However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will bring about many opportunities and challenges to ASEAN. On the one hand, the 4IR holds the possibility of substantial productivity gains, future prosperity and increasing wealth, new jobs, connectivity for all, and many other still unknown opportunities. On the other hand, the 4IR might lead to job losses and disruptions to sectors and industries, increasing inequalities, political instability, and vulnerability to cyberattacks, as well as the end of “Factory Asia,” according to a 2017 White Paper from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
We have learned from previous industrial revolutions that technological innovation can bring about dramatic changes and disruptions to life as we know it. They can potentially transform, challenge and sometimes replace the existing and familiar modes of operation, order of things and ways of life. Only this time, the speed of these developments is unprecedented. As the WEF and ADB White Paper aptly put it:
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change everything. The new technologies and the interaction between them will offer new ways to create and consume, transform how we deliver and access public services, and enable new ways to communicate and govern. Almost every aspect of our lives will be touched: jobs, business models, industrial structures, social interactions, systems of governance. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will even challenge the very concept of what it means to be human.
What this means, first and foremost, is that we live in an era that requires fast, timely, and proactive adaptations and responses. Otherwise, opportunities may be lost. Governments, industries, enterprises, policymakers, and workers may be left behind and unprepared for the consequences. If opportunities can be seized, ASEAN economies can reap great benefits, and the region will prosper. Transformations due to 4IR will bring significant life changes for many workers, who have to navigate an unpredictable future and simultaneously face the threat of redundancy if they do not have the opportunity or means to adapt their skills.
These disruptions will mainly affect the women of ASEAN. Generally, women bear the brunt of economic disruptions. A 2020 Asia Foundation study, The Future of Work Across ASEAN, found that the new challenges of 4IR will intersect with the traditional challenges of gender equality and dynamics.
Overall, more women in ASEAN are employed in lower-skilled and lowerpaying jobs than men, which has resulted in persistent gender wage gaps. A majority of women are employed in vulnerable sectors with limited access to benefits and social protection. Gender gaps in education have declined, but education attainment for women continues to lag compared to that of men (Projected Gender Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community, 2016). These issues and challenges are compounded by the fact that women contribute substantially to economic welfare through large amounts of unpaid care and domestic work in addition to work outside the home, leaving them hardly any time for upskilling activities.
Additionally, women are mainly on the wrong side of the digital divide. According to the 2020 Asia Foundation study, the gender digital divide threatens to keep beyond ASEAN women’s reach the many possibilities and paths to prosperity that digital technologies offer. Women generally have lesser access to digital technology and the internet, and therefore have lower literacy and digital skills (Connected Women: The Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019). Women face disadvantages in access to resources and opportunities for harnessing the potential of the digital transformation and are generally underrepresented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines and careers (The Future of Work Across ASEAN, 2020), which in turn limits their possibilities to learn and contribute to the STEM disciplines, to shape STEM-related industries, and to participate in leadership and decision-making roles in the digital sector.
Developments in automation will be particularly challenging for women workers. Although studies have shown that more jobs will be created as a result of 4IR continuously shaping ASEAN’s future (e.g. Oxford Economics and Cisco, 2018), other studies suggest that automation will put many jobs at risk. In 2016, ILO conducted a survey of the future of jobs in ASEAN-5—Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam—which comprises approximately 80 per cent of the entire ASEAN workforce. The study noted that “56 per cent of all employment in the ASEAN-5 is at high risk of displacement due to technology over the next decade or two” (p. 4). It also revealed that “in each of the ASEAN-5, women are more likely than men to be employed in an occupation at high risk of automation. Moreover, less-educated workers and employees earning lower wages face higher automation risk” (p. 4).
While risks and impacts certainly vary among the ASEAN countries, the ASEAN Community is very well aware that it must address the challenges posed by the 4IR while at the same time tap into the many potentials and opportunities that 4IR offers. ASEAN is also well aware that this has to go hand in hand with improving both education and labour market outcomes for women and drive further progress on women’s entrepreneurship. In fact, during the ASEAN Leaders’ Special Session at the 36th ASEAN Summit on Women’s Empowerment in the Digital Age, held on 26 June 2020, ASEAN Leaders reiterated the importance of promoting gender equality and the empowerment of all women to realise an inclusive, people-oriented, peoplecentred ASEAN Community. They also underscored the importance of “enhancing the welfare and development of all women and children in ASEAN, improving their access to opportunities and responding to emerging challenges as a result of the rapid development of science and technology, in particular, the 4IR and the digital transformation.” In particular, the Leaders were committed to increasing opportunities for women in frontier technologies and innovation, digital education, upskilling and reskilling, STEM education, financial inclusion, and MSMEs (Chairman’s Press Statement on ASEAN Leaders’ Special Session at the 36th ASEAN Summit on Women’s Empowerment in the Digital Age, 2020).
In November 2020, during the ASEAN Women’s Leaders’ Summit on “Women’s Role in Building a Cohesive, Dynamic, Sustainable and Inclusive ASEAN Community in a Post-COVID-19 World,” ASEAN Leaders not only highlighted the significant and indispensable role and contributions of women to the socio- economic development and maintenance of peace and security throughout the world and in the ASEAN region but also their crucial role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. They specifically “committed to place women’s leadership and contributions at the heart of the recovery efforts, particularly in the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and its Implementation Plan” (Chairman’s Press Statement on ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit “Women’s Role in Building a Cohesive, Dynamic, Sustainable and Inclusive ASEAN Community in a Post-COVID-19 World, 2020).
These are incredible milestones.
The Royal Government of Cambodia, which has always considered women as the backbone of the economy and society, has also placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of both, COVID-19 recovery efforts and Cambodia’s path towards a digital economy and 4IR. Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, a champion for gender equality and women’s empowerment, understands the challenges Cambodian women face, especially in light of automation and digitalisation, during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. He underscores that continuing to provide support to women, promoting women’s economic empowerment, and advancing the role of women on every level are key priorities and smart investments, both in terms of maintaining socio-economic stability during the crisis, promoting economic recovery and growth in the post-crisis, and preparing for seizing the opportunities and benefits provided by the 4IR.
For ASEAN and Cambodia, the Prime Minister sees the following gender equality and women’s empowerment priorities as essential for enhancing sustainable and dynamic social- economic development in the postCOVID-19 crisis (Keynote Address by Akka Bondit Sopheacha Aun Pornmoniroth, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy and Finance Representative of Samdech Techo Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia at the ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit), which is the foundation for inclusive development, shared prosperity and progress toward 4IR and digital economy:
a. Ensuring full and equal participation of women in decision-making at all levels by addressing all obstacles, including the culture of discrimination in political institutions.
b. Enhancing accountability mechanism for gender equality and improving relevant government institutions with effective means of monitoring the progress while ensuring sufficient provision of resources for this goal.
c. Increasing focus on human capital development and digitalisation, especially for young women, through the investment in education and skill development and addressing the gender gap in the fields of digital technology, education, and STEAM.
d. Continuing to promote women in the economy by fostering essential women MSMEs’ business development services and strengthening vocational training programs.
e. Continuing to enhance financial inclusion and financial technology for women to increase awareness, access to financial services, and digital technology usage.