I am sitting in a room with 24 passionate, motivated, and unique individuals from all 10 ASEAN countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei, and Laos. I hand-picked all of these young adults to travel to Hanoi for a five-day training session called “Gender Dialogues: Engaging ASEAN Youth in Gender Initiatives”, a project created by my host organization, the Center for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS), in collaboration with the UN Women, Mission of Canada, and VVC. This project aims to increase awareness about gender issues among ASEAN Youth and create a dialogue around how gender discrimination and other gender-related issues can be addressed through regional collective actions.

During the selection process, it was important to consider candidates from all different backgrounds with various experiences. It was also important to select both male and female candidates, as well as other genders, to join our training because we recognized that to achieve gender equality and make sustainable, long-lasting changes, all genders need to be included in the process. The candidates selected came from many different backgrounds with various experiences. One of our selected candidates, Rachael, is the director of her own Non-Governmental Organization that supports women in politics in Indonesia, while another one of our candidates, Faizul, started his own web design company. Some of the candidates have also been members and volunteers of highly recognized organizations such as the United Nations, YSEALI, and others.

The task of selecting candidates for this training was the first given to me when I arrived at CSDS. I was to go through 100 applications and select and interview participants from all over the ASEAN region. I was in charge of scheduling interviews, conducting them, and selecting successful applicants. After selecting the applicants, each one completed a small research project in preparation for the training, where they mapped gender issues within their countries. In ASEAN, gender inequality issues are similar across countries, and still prevalent, as I have learned through organizing and participating in this training. Each participant had a different lens on issues of gender within their respective communities. For example, Jose, one of our non-binary candidates, had a unique perspective on gender issues within his community in the Philippines. Having experienced discrimination himself, he understood the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, especially within his University, where they are the victims of ridicule and often refused service by taxi drivers. Jidapa, one of our Thai participants, explained how social media has shaped women into an art form and influenced their perceptions of themselves as vulnerable, reliant, and proper “women”, who are unable to express themselves in a way that makes themselves proud. These are real-world examples of the complications and challenges that arise when gender equality is prevalent.

Gender Equality is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5. The objective is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. According to the United Nations, gender equality is crucial in achieving sustainable development. Around the world, women are still deprived of basic human rights and opportunities and gender-based violence is still present. Women are also still under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes. This issue does not have a simple solution. Instead, it needs to be addressed at the structural and legal level, while also addressing social norms.

CSDS, my host organization and the organization responsible for the “Gender Dialogues: Engaging ASEAN Youth in Gender Initiatives”, is a non-governmental organization that focuses on empowering youth to become involved in sustainable development initiatives within their communities. The capabilities of youth are emphasized, and in this training, they are specifically emphasized in regards to how they can influence gender equality within ASEAN. How does the younger generation influence policy and decision-making? If you ask me, I believe that youth are the key drivers of change, especially when it comes to gender issues. Youth are dynamic, smart, and able to keep up with the times. In my personal experience, youth are a lot more accepting towards different genders and understand the value that each individual brings to the world and therefore are better able to grapple with gender issues and come up with innovative solutions.

Working with CSDS, this training made me question what gender-equality means in the context of Vietnam. In terms of state implementation of gender equality policies, the Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU) is one of a few important organizations that make up the ‘Fatherland Front of Vietnam’. While the VWU has been influential in promoting and advocating legislation for women since the 1950s, their resources are limited. In addition, while gender equality in Vietnam was strengthened by the implementation of two laws, the 2006 Law on Gender Equality and the 2007 Law on the Prevention and Control of Domestic Violence, the country still faces challenges of implementation due to obstacles in public education, reporting, gender analysis, and collection of data and monitoring.

 

Women in Vietnam still face challenges on a daily basis, with many women still living in poverty. Women have limited access to higher education and employment opportunities, and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours are still present, just like with many other ASEAN countries. In addition, women are still underrepresented in politics, which was a topic that resurfaced many times in the Gender Dialogues Training, especially in Indonesia.

While this training was broad and covered many topics, it provided a good starting point for further exploration in gender equality issues in ASEAN and the potential for the implementation of creative, sustainable solutions.

According to the United Nations, “providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large”.

RESOURCES USED

Cross-Cutting Themes: Gender. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2018, from http://www.un.org.vn/en/component/content/article.html?Itemid=&id=1081:cross-cutting-themes-gender

CSDS RECRUITMENT: PARTICIPANTS IN ALL ASEAN MEMBER COUNTRIES TO JOIN IN THE PROJECT: « GENDER DIALOGUES: ENGAGING ASEAN YOUTH IN GENDER INITIATIVES ». (2018, September 13). Retrieved from https://csds.vn/4577-2/

Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

Goetz, A. M. (2018). National Women’s Machinery: State-Based Institutions to Advocate for Gender Equality. Mainstreaming Gender, Democratizing the State,69-94. doi:10.4324/9780203786680-3