Like elsewhere, women in politics in the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) struggle for the same space, voice and influence as men. This is a problem. If women are not equally represented in decision-making, government policies will be unresponsive or detrimental to the needs of women and girls.
What is more, countries without inclusive, equal political participation and leadership are held back from harnessing the wider developmental benefits of equitable politics. These include improved health and social outcomes for society at large.
Across the region, the barriers to women’s equal leadership and participation are systemic and complex. They include obstacles preventing prospective women candidates from entering politics and discrimination, harassment and violence against women in politics.
The objectives of our programme advancing women's equality in ASEAN countries is to advance equality in politics and wider society in the region. We are doing this by helping to create a more enabling environment for politically active women to participate and exercise leadership in national, local and regional politics.
The programme, which is funded by Global Affairs Canada and was announced as part of Canadian commitments made at the 2021 Summit for Democracy, is supporting a world in which:
- there are more women in politics as well as in leadership positions;
- women in politics are better protected from violence;
- laws and policies better address gender equality.
To achieve this, we are working with politically active women and their allies. Our programme will benefit:
- women MPs
- women political party members and candidates
- women activists engaged in civil society and community-based organisations.
Aims and activities
The programme is deepening the evidence base when it comes to barriers to women’s political leadership and participation in ASEAN countries. We will achieve this through research conducted in partnership with regional research institutes. Research and evidence strengthens the argument for equality among local and regional decision-makers, civil society actors, and the international donor community. And, importantly, it boosts incentives to act.
Women’s equal participation in politics brings benefits for the whole of society. However, across the world, women are under-represented at all levels of formal politics. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are no different: In Indonesia, women hold 121 of 575 seats in the lower house of parliament – just 21%. In Thailand and Malaysia, just 15% and 14% of seats are held by women.
In Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, WFD is working with politically-active women and their allies to address barriers to women’s political leadership and participation. To achieve this, WFD is offering:
- skills development and learning opportunities
- mentoring schemes and exchanges
- interactive workshops to support strategies and action plans to promote changes in legal and policy frameworks
- support to advance the implementation of existing regulations to support equality and inclusion
- tools to address the vulnerabilities of operating online.
Through our work in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, we will build connections and relationships. We will use these connections and relationships to bring together politically active women and their allies and help establish a regional coalition for change. We will support the short-term planning and long-term strategic vision of the coalition.
Violence Against Women in Politics (VAWP) targets women for their political activity. It is motivated by desires to restrict their political participation. VAWP can have a chilling effect on the political ambitions of young women. It can have inter-generational consequences for the full realisation of women's political rights. Moreover, VAWP is under-reported because women fear for their safety, fear backlash from their political counterparts, and may not have formal legal avenues for redress. That is why the programme will contribute to addressing gender-based human rights violations. We will do this by raising awareness of violence against women and politics (VAWP) to inform formal policy responses to address it.