UN Women: Still too few women in leadership roles in Southeast Asia
by Steve Suwannarat

A report by UN Women and the Government of Cambodia notes that in 20 years, the proportion of women in management positions increased only by 2 per cent. Although the role of women was crucial during the pandemic, only Vietnam has a woman in charge of the Ministry of Health.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – continues to be a boys’ club, this according to a report by UN Women[*] and the Government of Cambodia, the current rotating chair of the regional association.

Despite the formal recognition of the role women play in achieving changes, the study, titled Women's Leadership in the ASEAN Region Data Snapshot, found that much remains to be done to ensure equal representation, particularly in key areas of development.

The proportion of women managers increased by only 2 per cent between 2000 and 2020, from 39 per cent to 41 per cent, while the proportion in lower and intermediate levels remained stable at 26 per cent.

At the political level, women represent 22 per cent of lawmakers, but once in the cabinet they are often relegated to coordinating ministerial committees or running ministries for gender equality and women's affairs.

"Gender equality is everyone's business and a smart investment. Leadership positions and decision-making power for women are crucial to ensure that their voices are heard and their roles are acknowledged and harnessed both in public and private sectors of ASEAN," said Ing Kantha Phavi, Cambodia‘s Minister of Women's Affairs.

Recognising the critical role women played in the COVID-19 pandemic, “We need to ensure they can continue to participate and have a greater leadership role in the COVID-19 recovery," said Sarah Knibbs, UN Women in Asia and the Pacific regional director.

It is useful to note that while women represent 67 per cent of front-line health workers in the battle against the pandemic, only 11 per cent of hospital management positions are held by women in the ASEAN countries.

What is more, the report notes that only in Vietnam is a woman at the helm of the Ministry of Health.

[*] The UN body’s full name is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.