• October 1, 2017

The ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs’ Network (AWEN), begun more than three years ago with US Government support, is taking on a growing role in shaping economic policies so that women can benefit from and make an expanded contribution to regional growth.

AWEN’s unique policy role was demonstrated at the forum on Mainstreaming ASEAN Women in Trade of Goods and Services Toward AEC 2025, held August 31 in Manila. Over 170 people from throughout ASEAN attended the forum, which examined barriers to women’s participation in trade and investment, and how to overcome those barriers.

Participants at the forum on August 31. Photo: ASEAN Secretariat

Presentations at the forum showed that the full benefits of trade—the chief driver of the ASEAN regional economy—remain unrealized as long as gender inequalities limit women’s participation in national, regional, and global markets. To address these inequalities, economic policies must change. But incorporating gender awareness into economic policy is difficult because of ASEAN’s traditional view of gender as being a social rather than an economic issue. AWEN is working within ASEAN to break through that institutional barrier.

AWEN was formed in April 2014 with support from USAID’s ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment (US-ACTI), a project implemented by Nathan Associates. Dozens of regional women’s organizations make up the membership of AWEN, which is addressing the barriers to women’s economic participation and creating opportunities for networking, training, and access to finance. Though part of ASEAN’s Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), AWEN has gained a formal role in the ASEAN Economic Community through the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC), the regional body tasked with bringing the views of the private sector on economic policy to the attention of ASEAN committees and leaders.

In addition, the ASEAN Economic Ministers recently tasked AWEN and the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, a policy group that can have a significant impact on opportunities for women who own small businesses, to coordinate on advancing women’s economic empowerment.

Leveraging its increasing influence, AWEN organized the Manila forum as part of the ASEAN Women’s Business Conference and developed an Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment in ASEAN that the Economic Ministers are submitting to ASEAN leaders for adoption at their November Summit. This would be the first time that the leaders directly address women’s economic empowerment.

US-ACTI will support AWEN as it further refines the recommendations, which revolve around increased dialogue among policymakers and women entrepreneurs, an improved enabling environment for women-owned businesses, greater investment in human capital development for women and girls, particularly in STEM, and greater policy coordination across ASEAN’s social and economic Communities.

Contact: Tim Buehrer

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