Part 1 of this series demonstrated how ASEAN’s gender mechanisms have failed to engage the central tenets of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on facilitating substantial and meaningful participation of women in politics and security governance.
This failure can be attributed to a combination of factors such as entrenched patriarchy, lack of political will, structural deficiencies, and limited capacities among the ASEAN member states. That said, these factors could be grouped into two broad categories—challenges of institutionalisation, and implementation.
Challenges of Institutionalisation
International regimes have essentially been influenced by patriarchal ideologies and gender stereotypes that tend to follow masculinised assumptions of politics, conflict, and security. As a result, the space for political decision-making has largely been dominated by men, with limited opportunities for women. The case of Southeast Asia is no different. Nonetheless, as an intergovernmental organisation, ASEAN has made an institutional attempt to incorporate the values of UNSCR 1325 in its activities. But these efforts have remained mere ‘on-paper’ commitments with scant attention paid to expanding women’s political agency into affirmative action.
This is primarily because the deeply embedded conservatism has resulted in a lack of political will among ASEAN decision-makers to facilitate women’s active and substantial political participation. Consequently, ASEAN’s engagement with issues of women’s agency has been institutionally linked to the achievement of regional economic and social cohesion—where women are perpetually framed as apolitical agents of development.
Additionally, along with gender-related orthodoxy, there is a structural weakness caused by the norms of consensus and unanimity that dominate ASEAN’s institutional architecture. The members are therefore not proactive in addressing ‘controversial’ issues. This means that even if a majority of eight members endorse women’s political empowerment but the remaining two members only agree with women’s economic empowerment, ASEAN cannot commit to the principles of UNSCR 1325 fully.
As a consequence of these norms, even though ASEAN comprises a well-established system on gender, none of the regional mechanisms have been directed exclusively towards the promotion of women’s political leadership—limiting progressive institutionalisation of UNSCR 1325.
The engagement on women’s rights has in fact been confined to the scope of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. This does find mention in the ASEAN Economic Community, but is absent from the ASEAN Political-Security Community—the pillar which should facilitate the UNSCR 1325 enforcement.
This institutional separation of women’s issues from the ASEAN’s political-security pillar feeds back into the orthodox narrative of women as a group that lies outside the male-dominated political-security dimensions.
Challenges of Implementation
The lack of political will has also obstructed progress achieved by ASEAN’s existing institutions on women that even slightly resonate with UNSCR 1325 objectives. Regional mechanisms such as the ASEAN Peace Registry for Women and the Women Parliamentarians of ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly do refer to women’s political agency but no concrete action has been taken towards empowering women’s leadership.
The challenges faced by ASEAN as an intergovernmental organisation could also perhaps be understood by examining the behaviour of domestic governments, where a similar trend of adopting legislation to address gender disparities is visible, but the will to sincerely implement these legislations is largely missing.
For instance, in 2004, Indonesia introduced the gender quota system under which political parties were obligated to ensure that women comprised at least 30 per cent of their list of candidates. Despite this, the number of female parliamentarians has remained inconsistent and increased only from 11 per cent in 2004 to 18 per cent in 2010, crawling back to 17 per cent in 2016, and rising once again to 20 per cent in 2018. This disproportion is mainly due to ingrained patriarchy, widespread vote-buying, an ineffective electoral system, and poorly organised political parties. These efforts also remain half-hearted as reservation within political parties is not reinforced by reservation for women within parliament. Similarly, women’s participation in Myanmar’s peace process remains far below the fixed quota of 30 per cent.
Another important issue in the ASEAN framework is of lack of capacity—particularly inadequate funding. Institutionally, ASEAN has not set aside a budget for operationalising UNSCR 1325, nor has it done so for the sustained functioning of other women’s committees that have the potential to incorporate the resolution.
For example, the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) receives voluntary contributions from members. It is not binding on member states to provide funds to this body. Consequently, the pace of institutional funding has remained slow, with the ACWC depending largely on funds from external sources.
According to a Rappler report, while an initial contribution of US$ 40,000 was pegged per member, two member contributions to the ACWC were still pending close to the deadline of 2015. As a result, only 16 per cent of the projects in the 2012-2016 ACWC work plan were completed by 2015. However, there is almost no trace of follow-up reports to analyse the success of this plan.
ASEAN as an intergovernmental organisation appears to have positioned itself as institutionalising the values of UNSCR 1325 in its structures. However, the dominance of patriarchal outlooks, structural complexities, lack of political will, and limited resources have held back meaningful engagement with the Resolution.