Strengthened gender mainstreaming, ASEAN's way towards gender equality

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

June 28, 2018, 12:17 pm

MANILA -- Senior officials from the 12 sectoral bodies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) were urged to strengthen gender mainstreaming in their respective offices to achieve gender equality in the region.

Experts during a Philippine Commission on Women-led (PCW) conference said officials from the bloc can start by promoting and adopting policies that are gender perspective.

This means taking into account the concerns of both men and women when designing and implementing policies so that both sexes benefit equally.

Sita Sumrit, head of ASEAN Secretariat Poverty Eradication and Gender Division, described this as an effort to bring gender equality into the 'mainstream' of an institution's activities rather than dealing with as an 'add-on'.

The ASEAN official referred to "gender equality" as the goal and the "gender mainstreaming" as the strategy.

Given the diverse culture in the region, Sumrit said there are no set formula or blueprint that can be applied in every context of gender mainstreaming, but the process begins with an organization's managers.

First steps include "identifying where are the opportunities to narrow gender inequalities" and deciding on the approach to be taken.

Nharleen Santos-Millar, chief of the Philippine Commission on Women Technical Services and Regional Coordination Division shared the similar remarks.

She said a manager, much like the ASCC senior officials present at the event, is one of the main elements of the gender mainstreaming process because policies are influenced by decision-makers.

"Without support from the management, some institution would have difficulties in mainstreaming just because the management does not support gender."

Full political participation

At the event, the ASEAN Progress Report on Women's Rights and Gender Equality was unveiled, where key issues that may impede women's ability to contribute to the ASEAN economic integration were identified.

Governments were urged to ensure that issues of concern to women, such as violence in all settings and in all forms must be eliminated through legislation and programs.

In the report, authors also concluded that women's full political participation is much needed for gender issues to be placed at the center of an institution's political agenda.


Meanwhile, when asked by a delegate on the inclusion of the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex) in the gender mainstreaming process, panelists said it is a given fact that the community is included.

"The answer is yes. First, you have to recognize that gender mainstreaming operates on the principle of inclusion. You want to promote gender equity and under the principle of gender equity, we would like to provide spaces, resources, and opportunities for those who have the least of it," said Dr. Lourdesita Sobrevega Chan, Philippine Women's Rights Representative to the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC).

She explained that gender is not only male or female.

"It's a social construct. Gender is not sex. When we say sex we mean male and female, when we say gender, we refer to the masculine and the feminine."

"We cannot reach gender equality or parity if there are those who are left behind. The way to gender equality is gender equity. By engaging in promoting equity, in the case of LGBTQI, that means if the government promotes gender mainstreaming, then you have to give space to them," she added. "They should be included because in the overall construct of gender they are also included."

Santos-Millar, for her part, said individuals have the right to choose their preferences, and this is an integral part of gender mainstreaming.

"It should not be seen as a problem but really addressing what is already out there as a concern of young people in terms of their sexual orientation and gender identity."

According to Sumrit, this is also a critical issue among the youth of Southeast Asia.

"This is (also) an issue of the youth, finding their sexual orientation and gender identity at this stage. In gender mainstreaming, we encourage respect. It has to be validating choices that people make and respecting the choices."

"There have been increasing discussions on LGBTQI children, and at the end of the day, they are children, and lesbians, they are women," she pointed out.

"If ASEAN talks about people-centered community, I don't think it's a challenge (to include them), it's an opportunity for the sectoral bodies to think through the gender mainstreaming and impress that ASEAN people are LGBT too and LGBTIQ+, and plus means allies of the LGBT people, which could be us," she said. (PNA)