ASEAN women leaders' summit held for first time

The ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit themed “Women’s Role in Building a Cohesive, Dynamic, Sustainable, and Inclusive ASEAN Community in a Post COVID-19 World” was held on November 12 within the framework of the 37th ASEAN Summit and related meetings.

NA Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan (L) and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the event. Photo:

Among the vulnerable groups, women are the worst affected by COVID-19 in many aspects such as health care, education and employment. Therefore, they play a significant role in the pandemic fight and post-pandemic recovery.  

The pandemic combat, digital transformation and the fourth Industrial Revolution require the soft power of women, as well as their connectivity and adaptability capacity.

The event afforded ASEAN leaders a chance to talk with outstanding female leaders in the region and at international organisations about how to further uphold their role in the process of building the ASEAN Community following the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was also one of the important activities within the framework of the ASEAN Year 2020 to mark the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of Beijing Declaration on gender equality, the  20th anniversary of the UN Security Council’s first Resolution on women, peace and security, and the fifth anniversary of the ASEAN Community and the realisation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals till 2030.

Speaking at the event, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc described women as an indispensable factor in the process of building peace and sustainable security.

Most recently, women’s role has been proved in the fight against COVID-19 when countries led by women record deaths that are six times lower than those in other countries, he said.

He cited the UN’s estimate as saying that 435 million women and girls will be pushed into poverty by 2021, 47 million of them are directly hit by COVID-19. Additionally, social distancing policies and national resources for pandemic prevention and control also contribute to increasing domestic violence and reducing the quality of key medical services for women.

The PM wished that the summit would offer important orientations to help ASEAN women contribute more widely and effectively to the process of building ASEAN Community as well as actively join efforts to ensure peace, security, sustainable and inclusive development in the region.

Dutch Queen Máxima delivered the opening remarks in ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit in her role as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. Photo: UNSGSA

Speaking about the theme “Women Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Development in a Changing World”, Dutch Queen Maximax, who is also the UN Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, spoke highly of women’s increasingly important role in the development of the world in the near future, including increasing economic empowerment for women on inclusive finance, digital transformation and e-commerce.

According to Queen Maximax, the ASEAN Community, and the recently approved plan of action between ASEAN and the UN through 2025, offers an important platform to support women’s economic empowerment as a key element of COVID-19 response. Now is the time to build on the many good existing ASEAN initiatives, including the ASEAN Working Committee on Financial Inclusion. We need to accelerate smart policies, invest and market incentives to drive women’s financial inclusion throughout the region. 

"As the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, I look forward to deepening my engagement with ASEAN member states. My partners and I stand ready to provide support to advance needed reforms, in addition to sharing and exchanging international best practices. Thank you very much and I wish you all success, said Queen Maximax.

At the event, Vietnamese National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan called for ensuring legitimate economic and health benefits of women via effective and timely measures. She urged that global, regional and national efforts related to gender equality should be maintained and unobstructed.

Accordingly, ASEAN needs to put women into focus of reconstruction and recovery, enhance women’s leadership and voices in decision-making process, increase their economic empowerment to narrow development gap, strengthen ASEAN Community’s resilience against external shocks, she said.

Amid rapid and complicated developments in the region and the world, she called on ASEAN to take new, creative and effective approaches to upholding women’s role in every aspect, especially tapping benefits from digital technology.

Vietnam will hold the ASEAN High-level Forum on women’s role in comprehensive and sustainable recovery next year. She believed that the forum would offer practical recommendations to realise the ASEAN comprehensive recovery framework recently adopted at the 37th ASEAN Summit as well as assist the process of building post-2025 ASEAN Vision.

Tu Pham