Asean must live up to promises on equal rights
The regional grouping cannot prosper if women - half of the population - continue to be denied the full range of social benefits brought by economic developmentAlthough Thailand and Asean have made a lot of progress on rights protection, women are still facing great challenges in terms of gender inequality and the protection of their rights, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Women continue to face disadvantages in economic and social status. Regional integration, which allows for the freer flow of human resources, has created opportunities for some, but many women in the region still face poverty and unemployment. Many women are domestic workers who are left unprotected by inadequate or non-existent national labour laws. In addition, ingrained social perceptions have resulted in discrimination and domestic violence on a daily basis.
These are the issues facing millions of women in the region, and they will continue to do so despite the promises of improvement made about advent of the Asean Economic Community in 2015. The greater integration of Asean is designed to cover three main pillars: economic, political security and socio-cultural. Every country is accountable when it comes to addressing the problem of gender inequality. Improvement in the status of women is essential if the region is to prosper in a sustainable manner. Asean has come up with the mantra "One Vision, One Identity, One Community". It must now live up to that promise. If half of the population is denied the chance to advance in an environment of equality, it will be impossible for the region to get ahead.
Thailand has come a long way in this regard. Not only has the country has seen its first female prime minister, many women have managed to climb the corporate ladder. But much more remains to be done. Apart from political rights, women are also demanding equal rights in employment and education.
Thailand's National Economic and Social Development Plan includes a Women's Development Plan to promote positive attitudes toward gender equality, increasing women's capacity and economic and social participation, promoting women's health's and wellbeing, empowering women and increasing their participation in politics and decision-making at all levels. The ultimate aim of the plan is to create social equality.
However, the sad fact is that some Thai women are still victims of abuse and affronts to dignity such as trafficking and sexual violence. Many female economic migrants who come to Thailand seeking a better life are also subject to violations of their rights, largely because national laws do not protect them.
The effort to improve the lot of women across all sections of society requires cooperation from all parties involved. Women must have greater access to education. The wrong, deep-rooted perceptions in some communities that men are entitled to use physical force against women must be corrected. In a 2011 survey of selected communities in Southeast Asia, 92 per cent of men and 94 per cent of women agreed it is important for a man to exert power over his wife and demonstrate that he's head of the family. Such an attitude has led to the "normalisation" of violence in the name of family order.
Asean has named rights protection as one of its integration goals. It is thus incumbent upon all member countries to work together to educate and inform both women and men to address the inequality issue, which remains an obstacles to sustainable regional prosperity.
Asean can thrive as a result of its diversity, while at the same time promoting and protecting the desirable universal value of equal human development. Regional integration cannot be meaningful in any way if it leaves out certain groups of people.