The 27th Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) was successfully concluded last week in Siem Reap, the historical and cultural city of Cambodia, with a joint communiqué calling for enhanced regional partnership for peace and sustainable development. The three key words that dragged the discussion were the lack of mutual understanding between the West and the East on the concept of a ‘win-win cooperation”, the lack of consensus between Russia and the rest on the concept of “cybersecurity” and “information security”, and the politically sensitive Rohingya issue which embroils Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh.
Although there were some challenges to reach consensus on certain key words and issues, the meeting was a significant milestone in forging mutual understanding and partnership to address emerging international issues such as gender inequality, climate change, natural disaster, and terrorism.
Gender equality was the highlight of the event. The first formal Meeting of APPF Women Parliamentarians was convened a day earlier before the opening ceremony of the APPF. The meting was presided over by Samdech Heng Samrin, in his capacity as president of the National Assembly of Cambodia and president of the 27th Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum and co-chaired by Khuon Sudary, second vice-president of the National Assembly of Cambodia and Olga Epifannova, deputy chairperson of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.
Remarkably, there were 31 interventions from 18 APPF member states and 11 draft resolutions, which were merged into three draft resolutions for adoption. This illustrated strong interest among the APPF members in promoting the agenda on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Ms Khuon Sudary called for more practical cooperation and concrete actions to achieve Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. She encouraged parliamentarians to allocate more financial resources to build capacity for women such as equal access to education and technology.
She said, “We need to double our efforts to promote action-oriented international cooperation. Action matters than words. We need to be bolder and be more transformative and innovative to address the issues and challenges that women and girls, from our region and beyond, are facing”.
Five key issues that were discussed at the meeting were: (1) the low number of female workers in the workforce in comparison to the number of male workers, (2) the remaining obstacles for women to obtain equal access to education, vocational training, technology and knowledge; (3) the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions; (4) the limited support mechanisms for women and girls; and (5) the non-holistic or comprehensive nature of some policies and programmes.
To address these outstanding challenges, the meeting proposed five policy recommendations. First, the need to adopt a multifaceted policy-research agenda to bring about gender equality in the workforce, by providing support in skill development and vocational training.
Second, to encourage the role women play as agents of change, particularly by providing better access to knowledge and technology. Third, to enable and empower women to take leadership roles in decision-making at all levels. Fourth, the need to strengthen multi-stakeholder dialogue and cooperation to allow for the construction of better frameworks and institutions, access to greater budgets and funding, as well as sharing best practices and know-how in policy making. Fifth, the need to conduct gender-based analysis by considering the diverse needs of women, men, and others as an assessment tool when building policies, programmes, and initiatives.
All these measures are indeed laudable and parliamentarians must work closely to deepen the Asia-Pacific partnership, enhance mutual understanding and trust through frank and open communication, and make parliamentary exchanges constructive for developing state-to-state and people-to-people relations.
Parliamentarians must strengthen partnerships to empower women and effectively implement gender-equality measures in their respective countries and the region. As the saying goes: It’s the hand that rocks the cradle that rules the world.