Women’s Caucus’s Reaction to ‘ASEAN Political Security Blueprint

Nov, 15, Jakarta:

During the ‘Workshop on the Human Rights Implications of the ASEAN Community Blueprint’ held in Jakarta, Indonesia from 12 to 13 November 2013, Women’s Caucus was invited to be one of the reactor to the ASEAN Politiacal Security Blueprint. Speaking on behalf of Women’s Caucus, Ms. Pranom Somwong, Women’s Caucus and APWLD member, highlighted and urged attention on key concerns of the blueprint.

Pranom also rightly  stressed on the extension network of Women’s Caucus, calling for ASEAN to partner with women’s network like Women’s Caucus. She stated “With over 100 women’s groups/organizations, and assuming each organization’s strengths and further reach to women, Women’s Caucus has extensive network of women. ASEAN needs to work with women’s network”.

Pranom’s key presentation is as follow:

Women’s Rights are Human Rights.  

We cannot arbitrarily separate and look at the issues concerning women from just one of the 3 perspective, i.e. the Political-Security, Economic, and Socio-Cultural. We have to understand that women’s issues are cross-cutting and must be seen from a unified holistic view point rather that the present artificial separation in the approach undertaken by ASEAN. It is good that finally there is this realization in ASEAN that has brought us here today.

The major issue that WC has been pointing out is the need of coherence between three pillars. For instance: The protection and promotion and realization of rights of women, children, indigenous peoples, migrants  etc should also be acted upon in the Political pillar as well,  synchronized well with  other 2 pillars Economic and Socio Cultural.

2015 is fast approaching, and if ASEAN is to achieve its goals, the time has come to move from mere understanding and respecting the differences in the ASEAN member states, and also amongst the different ethnic, cultural and religious communities/peoples and committing to a NEW ASEAN standard and norm that will  be truly ASEAN. These must not be mere proclamations but truly enforceable rights, freedoms, duties and obligations, accessible not just to ASEAN nation states but to ever individual person (women, men, LGBT, etc) in the ASEAN region.

The time now is need of going beyond mere hopes and sentiments of ASEAN, and  must have strong political commitments  from member states .

Are we moving towards an ASEAN Community or moving away?

Let’s just look at the object of being an ASEAN Economic Community, and we started well by the entry into ASEAN Free Trade Agreements being agreements between ASEAN member countries, and Trade Agreements between ASEAN and other nation States like ASEAN-Japan FTAs, ASEAN-China, ASEAN-Korea , ASEAN-India and the ASEAN- Australia-New Zealand. But this unity as ASEAN gets lost when member states started entering into individual trade agreements with other countries including also the European Union (EU). Now we have that Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which brings China and the 10 ASEAN countries together with India, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and at the same time we have the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) which involves only 3 ASEAN nation states – Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. These agreements have not only economic but also socio-cultural and political implications. The question we have to ask is why ASEAN is not working together as ASEAN? Our priority must be for ASEAN people and no more, just our own individual national states or peoples.

From a political security perspective, the RCEP, the TPPA  and the such other so called ‘trade agreements’ are also tools that superpowers like the US, EU and China are using the extend not just the economic control and dominance, but also their political and security interests which many a time smaller nation states, having little power, will be  bullied. That is why ASEAN needs, with its more than half a billion population and large resources, need to stand together as ASEAN community.

 We have been striving to build ASEAN as a highly competitive economic region, institutions and laws related to competition policy have recently been established in some ASEAN countries, including developing a regional guideline on competition policies.

But we also have an equitable economic development as the main objective of the ASEAN governments. However, activities to achieve this target are addressed at economic players mainly in the formal sector. While particularly small and medium scale companies get left out.  It should be noted that the majority of people in ASEAN are still dependent on subsistence economies and are in informal sectors (60% and mostly are women workers). Furthermore, many of them are already facing and will continue face problems of loss of livelihoods and shelters due to land grabbing for infrastructure development, extraction of natural resources and construction of industrial zones.

Creating a Space for Trafficked   person (Women)

On the question of human trafficking, ASEAN needs a common definition and understanding, to this perhaps GAATW’s definition may be best. Malaysia’s extremely wide definition to include all persons who are exploited opens to abuse and deprivation of worker rights. In Malaysia, if ‘rescued’, the trafficked person is placed under protection for a short period to assist in the investigation and thereafter, if it is a foreign national the person is sent to the Immigration authorities whereby the said victim is detained and thereafter sent back to the country of origin. There is no provision in Malaysia’s law for justice or even compensation for the victim. Worse, if that victim was really a worker who has now been classified as a trafficked victim, he/she will not have the opportunity or the recourse to claim even for his/her unpaid wages and other matters due and outstanding. In fact, Malaysia’s trafficking law seem to be just to appease the big powers and to deal primarily with undocumented migrants rather than people who truly are victims of human trafficking. ASEAN must come together and develop the meaning of ‘trafficking of human persons’, and more importantly ensure that the trafficked person right to justice is truly protected.

Migrant Workers or time to talk about ASEAN workers

On migrant workers, in the spirit of ASEAN, the time has come for the free movement of the people of ASEAN for employment. ASEAN, like many other countries, have been moving towards free movement of trade, services and capital across national borders, ASEAN member states should now be committed to also talking about free movement of labour.

Right   to organize  and Freedom of Association.

One truth is that for workers and the poor, their power to negotiate with their employer, local government and other authorities is minimal and hence for the sake of justice the freedom of association should be a right and accorded to women. Talking about ASEAN, people from across ASEAN should also be able to freely form associations of women workers, women community organize or trade unions or CSO organizations.

I must say that it is near impossible to cover all the different aspects, and here I have just touched on some examples.

Let us remember that ASEAN Political-Security Community envisages the following three key characteristics: A Rules-based Community of shared values and norms; A Cohesive, Peaceful, Stable and Resilient Region with shared responsibility for comprehensive security; and A Dynamic and Outward-looking Region in an increasingly integrated and interdependent world. What I have spoken about and suggested will help us achieve this goal. Let us now move forward and make the ASEAN dream a reality in 2015, ensuring always that human rights, women rights and justice would always be protected and promoted.

 Thank You.


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