YL Blog #41 – Beyond the ‘old boys club’: Creating comprehensive gender representation in security spaces

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I have to admit I felt a little uneasy attending this study group. I am not a woman and I do not have any field experience in security but more importantly, I was not privy to the three previous study group meetings. I was literally going in blind but I suppose it’s my independence that made my participation somewhat useful (that is what we tell ourselves when we feel grossly inadequate).

Many of the recent strides in gender equality have dodged peace and security, an industry that still largely remains an old boys club. Especially in governance, where key decisions about the rights and protections of women and girls in conflict and disaster are made. But even online where all of the social media companies are led by men. I was not feeling particularly optimistic about our odds.

At two days, this was not a very long conference. But my impression was overwhelmingly positive. I could see that most of the discussion had occurred well in advance by key stakeholders in the region and that this was mostly about locking in the final outcome document. It was topical too with references to the global pandemic and the impact of climate change as well as differences between subregions and localities. We heard directly from NATO, US forces at the Pacific Command, Australian and New Zealand Defense Forces, leading academics in the gender field, and a senior foreign policy correspondent at CNN. One observation though was that we did not hear from the military or media organisations in Asia which might have been useful in terms of looking at synergies and common challenges. It felt very western-centric. The recurring theme was that although gender was now on the radar, it was not being taken seriously enough at the leadership level to achieve large-scale change. One of the things that really shocked me was learning how women account for less than 20% of expert news sources. How can we improve the visibility of women in the boardrooms when we do not even see them on our televisions?

I remember watching conflict reports on the news growing up. Women and girls were only ever mentioned as victims of sexual harassment or displacement. Never as mediators, technical experts, or relief workers.

The figure is similar for women in conflict research and innovation, management, marketing, etc. They are often the victims of cyber bullying too but rarely do online safety strategies include gender. If we do not change the way we see women in the workplace, we will never change outcomes for women and girls on the ground. One of the speakers was incredibly profound when she said women are not necessarily born with more empathy or compassion. They are expected to behave that way by society. We value male traits in leadership which is often why women miss out on promotions. You see had I not attended the conference, I never would have discovered these incredible insights. There were three young leaders in the room. Each of us awkward and aloof. But beyond our gaze was a genuine fear that defunding civil society spaces, attacks on press and academic freedom, and the steady revival of populism could undermine all of the progress in this area. The case for young people at these events has never been stronger. It is our future on the line here. We must have a stake  in what that future looks like.

This is why platforms like the Pacific Forum are so essential. They bring stakeholders together to monitor progress against real world issues without the political restraint of diplomacy. I’m glad I did not let my reluctance stop me from attending. I just wish more men were brave enough to see gender as a strength and not as a “woke” experiment. Since attending, I have found myself prompting gender conversations more frequently in the workplace and in the wider community. Asking for data and evidence and making time-bound commitments. One thing I could not help but notice however is that women of colour are often missing from high-level conversations on gender equality. We risk re-creating the same levels of privilege that already exist if we do not include more women of colour, women with disabilities, indigenous women, rural women, etc. We are on the right track but there is always more work to do in this space. I have not attended a conference in person for nearly three years due to COVID-19 but this one was very special. It made me identify my privileges as a western male and the shortcomings in the way that we manage conflict and disaster in the 21st century. I am absolutely convinced that if we applied a gender lens to peace and security, we would limit conflict and improve disaster management. It is more cost effective too. We waste billions of dollars every year soliciting the advice of expensive consultants who only tell us what we already know in glossy charts. If we are serious about progress, it starts with including the excluded.

When I left the conference, I was reminded of my grandma. Whenever we encountered difficulty, it was her reassurance and patience that made all the difference. She was more tolerant than my grandpa and would listen more too. I think I would feel a lot safer if my grandma was in charge.

Fale Andrew Lesa JP ([email protected]), Indigenous to Samoa and residing in New Zealand, is an elected member of Auckland Council, the largest city council in Australasia, and a policy consultant at the Asian Development Bank. Fale has worked for UNESCO globally on both heritage and climate change and was human rights scholar at Reuters and a former keynote speaker at Women Deliver. He has also worked with UN Women on gender in the  humanitarian context.

 Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

YL Blog #37 – Addressing Invisibility: Crafting a South Asian Action Plan for Unpaid Care Work

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Despite social progress brought about by economic development in the past decades, women in South Asia continue to bear the brunt of disproportionately distributed unremunerated care work. Unpaid care work refers to all unremunerated services provided within a household that involve catering to the needs of its members. Such activities include cooking, looking after children and elderly, production for subsistence, collection of everyday necessities such as fuel, washing clothes, etc. Of these activities, childcare, cooking, and cleaning occupy nearly 85% of the total time spent by women on unpaid care work globally. While unpaid care work supports economic activities, it remains absent from both gross domestic production (GDP) calculations and developmental policy formulations.

Time use surveys (TUS) show that developing nations portray greater gender disparity in the amount of time spent on care work than developed nations. This inequality is defined by both macroeconomic factors such as the state of the national economy as well as microeconomic factors such as personal incomes, with those in the lower rungs being more disadvantaged. A 2018 report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) noted that women engage in nearly 80% of unpaid care work hours in the Asia-Pacific region, which is 4.1 times more than men. This leads to “time poverty” which leaves women with little to no time to participate in paid work, let alone recreational activities.

The driving factors behind such disproportionate share of unpaid care work include unequal access to the labor market; socio-cultural (gender) norms; lack of social care infrastructure; and the legal and institutional environment. These interrelated factors are further defined by age, class, ethnicity, and spatio-temporal factors such as regional disparities. Even if women participate in paid economic activities, unpaid care work either falls on women as a “double burden” or is outsourced to domestic helpers instead of being redistributed among men and women within the household. These domestic helpers, who too are mostly women, in turn depend on women in their own families for their share of unpaid care work. This creates a dichotomy where one woman’s freedom binds the feet of another. Furthermore, exposure to long term or high intensity unpaid care work cause extreme physical and emotional stress that might lead to serious psychiatric and physical morbidities.

Unpaid care work thus stands as a major albeit invisibilized non-traditional security threat to women, for it does not just impact their lifespan and quality of life; hamper their prospects for socioeconomic progress, political participation, access to healthcare and education but also limits their life choices and agency thus preventing them from realizing their full potential. As climate change becomes more conspicuous, women’s share of unpaid care work such as fetching water, gathering firewood, etc. increases. The impact of unpaid care work on women thus needs to be addressed in congruence with other threats to human security.

South Asia in Perspective

While South Asia is a vibrant region with diverse cultural, linguistic, regional, socioeconomic and political distinctions, most communities follow a patriarchal, patrilocal kinship system where men are seen as the primary breadwinners and women, as primary caregivers. Traditionally, women have limited inheritance rights and their expected roles as full time caregivers severely hamper their economic activities outside the household; this is in addition to restrictions imposed on their mobility owing to concerns of guarding their “chastity” and “family honor” in some communities. A “good wife” and “good mother” is expected to completely devote herself to cater to the needs of her family members, those who fail to comply are often dubbed as “deviant” or “bad” women. Unpaid care work remains highly invisibilized across South Asia which is viewed as a “duty” that women are expected to render out of “love” for the family. However, it is possible for a woman to love her family and also expect that household tasks are evenly distributed among family members in order to avoid oppressing any one individual more than the others.

Nevertheless, for the vast majority of women living in the Asia-Pacific, unpaid care work is burdensome and limiting. A United Nations report noted that women spend nearly 5.867 hours (352 minutes) per day on unpaid care work in India as compared to just 51.8 minutes spent by men. In Pakistan, women spend 11 hours more than men on unpaid care work. In Bangladesh, women spend 11.7 hours as compared to 1.6 hours spent by men. In Nepal, women spend 7.5 hours per day, which is 2.5 times higher than men. In Bhutan, women were found to be spending 15% of their time on domestic care work which is 2 hours 11 minutes more than men. A 2017 Time Use Survey in Sri Lanka noted that 87.3% of women and girls were engaged in household and care work in comparison to 59.7% men and boys. Data collected by the United Nations in 2016 similarly noted that women in Maldives spent 6 hours, almost double that of men. The disparity is the most concerning in Afghanistan, where women spend a total of 18.7 hours a day on unpaid care work as compared to just 5.6 hours spent by men.

In almost all cases, the situation has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Reasons range from loss of employment due to stringent lockdowns to lack of accessibility to affordable healthcare among women, and almost universally includes subjection to physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the household. Countries like Afghanistan are also deeply affected by the political rise of extremist forces such as the Taliban. Many countries in South Asia are yet to officially adopt and institutionalize the collection of Time Use Survey data. Though revealing of the grim situation, such surveys do not necessarily capture the reality on the ground.

While the 2022 ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security recognizes addressing unpaid care work as a priority, most countries  in South Asia have not adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) for Women, Peace and Security so far. In the light of the Taliban government’s onslaught on women’s rights, it is highly unlikely that Kabul would continue to commit itself to such a plan. Furthermore, the political sensitivity surrounding the issue acts as a major stumbling block in the official adoption of NAPs in these countries. While advocacy for the same continues, the implementation of an informal collaborative action plan can serve as a timely solution.

A South Asian Action Plan for Unpaid Care Work

As rapidly growing economies that house nearly a quarter of humanity, almost half of which are women; recognition of unpaid care work in South Asia is the need of the hour. The following informal Action Plan can serve as a solution:

  1. Recognizing the intersectionalities of class, caste, region, religion, language, etc. that define the identity of a South Asian woman. It is also important to identify the most affected groups such as single women led households as targets and provide them with additional support.
  2. Recognizing unpaid care work as an economic activity and including it in developmental policy making.
  3. Including more women and men genuinely concerned with the issue in decision making and policy framing panels so that all policies related to employment are coherent of unpaid care work.
  4. Strengthening the Social Protection Systems and Social Care Infrastructures through increased budgetary allocations on childcare, elderly care, women’s health and education.
  5. Creating a culture of gender sensitivity regarding unpaid care work at all levels of education.
  6. Investing in capacity building among women in order to economically empower them. This must take the form of developing women-led banking networks promoting ease in granting loans, development of Self Help Groups and Skill Training workshops for women. Forming a joint resource fund for building such economic capacities among women.
  7. Promoting transnational collaboration among research institutes to identify overlapping issues, mutual concerns and challenges as well as issues unique to each region in order to develop the most effective and feasible tools to measure the impact of unpaid care work.
  8. Promoting regular and improved gender disaggregated data collection.
  9. Facilitating flexible work schedules and arrangements such as part-time jobs, etc. in addition to regular jobs for women and creating awareness among women about their rights and the initiatives launched.
  10. Institutionalizing paid parental leave and leave for elderly care for both men and women.
  11. Recognizing that women are among the worst hit in cases during Health Emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring provision of accessible and affordable healthcare including mental healthcare for women.
  12. Regularizing paid care work in informal sectors, promoting equal wages among men and women and improving working conditions in both formal and informal sectors.
  13. Providing universal monetary entitlements for unpaid care work including pension entitlements to compensate for inability to join the active workforce.
  14. Countering cultural stereotypes promoting toxic masculinity that prevent men from participating in domestic chores through active media campaigns.
  15. Promoting men in paid care work to counter the perception of women being primary caregivers. Identifying and Promoting local cultural norms which offer greater gender equality in terms of unpaid care work.
  16. Promoting childcare facilities at workplaces.
  17. Reaching a consensus on a set of defined parameters such as enhancing economic independence among women, reducing time spent on unpaid care work, etc. to enable a comparative study among nations in South Asia, monitoring progress as well as identifying and sharing best solutions.
  18. Building an active legal redressal mechanism with stringent implementation to deal with cases of physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse faced by women in unpaid and paid care work in both informal and formal sectors.
  19. Countries displaying comparatively better records such as India, Sri Lanka, etc. must encourage and take lead in negotiating with countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. that lag behind.
  20. Encouraging the active participation of civil society and women’s Self Help Groups to form transnational alliances and act as pressure groups in demanding better conditions for women.

A collaborative effort in the form of an informal National Action Plan to be jointly formulated and implemented by governments at all levels, regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and civil society groups alike would not just empower women but also help in establishing better political relations in the region. Lessons can be taken from the 2022 ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security in formulating a nuanced and meaningful action plan.

Peace must not be understood as mere absence of violence. Violence continues to exist as systematic oppression embedded in societal institutions such as family where it often takes the guise of “duty,” “love,” and “care”; gendered unpaid care work being one such manifestation. Similarly, national and regional security assessments must also take into account individual development. Addressing women’s unpaid care work would thus not just free them from the shackles of patriarchy but would also socially and economically empower them. Such measures would pave the way for a peaceful and secure South Asia in the true sense of the word.

Cherry Hitkari ([email protected]) is a Non-resident Vasey Fellow and Young Leader at Pacific Forum. She is a Postgraduate student of Chinese language and holds a Bachelor’s (Hons.) in History and a Masters in East Asian Studies with specialization in Chinese Studies from the University of Delhi.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.


PacNet #20 – How feminist is Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy – PART ONE: The Good

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Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy (hereafter, CIPS or “the strategy”), launched in late 2022, is a strong assertion of Ottawa’s mutual strategic interests, the aspirations of a middle power, and a Pacific state’s position in the Indo-Pacific that represents over $9 trillion in economic activity. Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy was aptly summed up by the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly:

“The future of the Indo-Pacific is our future; we have a role to play in shaping it. To do so, we need to be a true, reliable partner. Today, we are putting forward a truly Canadian strategy—one that involves every facet of our society. It sends a clear message to the region that Canada is here, and they can trust we are here to stay.”

Canada’s CIPS highlights the country’s commitment to making the free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific more inclusive through an emphasis on human rights, sustainable development goals (SDGs), and a feminist foreign policy (FFP)—defined as policy that rebalances power inequalities, and is informed by the everyday experiences of people who feel the consequences of such policies. While Canada has not developed an FFP, in 2017 the country launched its Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), its international assistance programming policy centered on championing gender equality. The FIAP has become the country’s de facto FFP, making Canada the second nation in the world (after Sweden) to develop such a policy. Furthermore, since the launch of the FIAP, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has announced and begun listening sessions for establishing a formal FFP. The FIAP centers on gender equality and women’s rights, and specifies that Canadian foreign policy—including diplomacy, trade, security, development, and consular services—builds on a series of sectoral feminist policies and initiatives developed in recent years.

The new CIPS makes clear references to Canada’s FIAP as a key focus of Canada’s approach to the Indo-Pacific. But has the FIAP informed CIPS enough to give it feminist credentials? Referring to both the FIAP and dialogue documents related to development of a formal FFP, the following analysis looks at how the strategy aligns with Canada’s own feminist principles. Part I of the discussion—covered in this article—begins by looking at how well CIPS aligns with Canada’s FFP in four topic areas foundational to a middle power like Canada and its aspirations in the Indo-Pacific. These include i) regional peace, resilience, and security, ii) boosting trade with and within the region, iii) norm-setting and commitment to rule of law, and iv) promoting people-to-people connections, and sustainable future.

Promoting peace, resilience, and security

To examine the Strategy’s peace and security pillar, we look at the FIAP, which references Canada’s National Action Plan (NAP) for Women, Peace and Security (WPS), a policy that addresses more than an increase in representation of women in the military. It takes a whole-of-government approach covering not only peace and security policies, but also development assistance and humanitarian action. Furthermore, the FIAP covers participation of women and girls in peacebuilding, women’s rights in post-conflict state-building, and sexual violence in conflict, wherein it specifically ties women’s (human) security to larger security challenges. With this in mind, it is reassuring to see that CIPS calls for the increase of women peacekeepers, though this is perhaps the only way the Strategy aligns with Canada’s FFP on these topics.

Boosting trade with and within the region

On trade, the FIAP acknowledges that trade has “not always benefited everyone equally,” noting the importance of a progressive trade agenda that considers gender equality during trade negotiations, as well as strong environmental protections and labor rights. It calls out the importance of addressing sexual and gender-based violence, consultations with women’s organizations and movements, and the need to consider differential needs of women and men in Canada’s trade agenda.

So, how does CIPS stack up against these aspirational goals? It uses progressive rhetoric like emphasizing the need to support a trade system that is inclusive to create economic prosperity for everyone; enhances support for women entrepreneurs; and expands international partnerships through Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), designed to “help women grow their business through increased access to financing, talent, networks and mentorship.” It also hints at engaging in regional cooperation through a commitment to working within local economic systems by developing a Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement, a comprehensive economic partnership with Indonesia to launch a Canadian trade gateway in Southeast Asia, the Canada-India early progress trade agreement (EPTA). Prioritizing women, pluralism, and emphasizing collaboration over competition are all strategies that align well with the FFP.

Norm-setting and building a sustainable green future

An important element of Canada’s FIAP is the emphasis on “collaborating” in common causes and “learning” from partners. As such, engaging with existing regional frameworks is one way to put Canada’s FFP principles into practice. On this, the Strategy reinforces Canada’s multilateral missions to the United Nations, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and of course reinforces Canada’s commitment to its WPS NAP. The strategy also notes plans to appoint a special envoy to coordinate a whole-of-government approach, espouses ASEAN centrality, and calls for advancing Canada’s relationship with ASEAN to the level of strategic partner. By these measures, CIPS demonstrates Canada’s willingness to prioritize the voices of the region.

Looking at objectives 3 (investing in and connecting people) and 4 (Building a sustainable and green future) of the Strategy allows us to examine both development and non-traditional challenges within Canada’s middle power tool chest. Canada’s FFP Dialogue has leaned into a development agenda focused on achieving the SDGs by 2030, in part through the full and equal participation of women, and a focus on resilience through environmental protection and climate change mitigation. The FIAP also notes the importance of education and business development opportunities for women, and the need to address the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work of women.

How does the strategy address these issues? First, and most promisingly, it references expansion of the FIAP, focuses on entrepreneurship through the WES, and connects to many other women-focused partner programs. The strategy also offers a host of green and sustainable investment programs, like FinDev sustainable infrastructure investments; the Dark Vessel Detection program (designed to halt IUU fishing); DRR expertise sharing; Expand Canada Climate Finance Commitment; Powering Past Coal & cleantech demonstrations; and Advancing Canada’s Global Carbon Pricing Challenge, among others.


Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy has many progressive elements, wherein it references Ottawa’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and other feminist principles in important aspects of Indo-Pacific growth, trade, connectivity, prosperity and inclusiveness. There is explicit recognition of the centrality of the Women, Peace and Security agenda which reflects a gender-sensitive awareness of Ottawa’s strategy towards the Indo-Pacific. These alone make Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy normatively progressive compared to other Indo-Pacific strategies. However, as Part II will suggest, the Strategy diverges from Canada’s previously stated feminist principles in some crucial ways.

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ([email protected]) is the Director for Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Programs and a Senior Fellow at Pacific Forum International, holds a Harvard International Relations graduate degree, is a member of the Research Network on Women, Peace & Security in Canada, and a Teaching Fellow at Harvard Extension School. Maryruth researches at the intersection of gender and climate security.

Astha Chadha ([email protected]) is a Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum, PhD Candidate at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, and a researcher at the university’s Democracy Promotion Center. She is a Japanese Government MEXT scholar, and her research focuses on Japan-India relations, Indo-Pacific security, South Asian affairs, and impact of religion on international relations.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly responds to questions at a news conference by Mélanie Joly on Facebook.

Issues & Insights Vol. 23, WP1 – Why Gender Balance Matters for Equity and Peace in the Indo-Pacific

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Who shows up at events and conferences matters. Public and closed-door events are where successes and failures are analyzed; where conceptions about security, what it means, and how we can achieve it bump up against one another; and where problems are solved in novel ways. The greater the diversity of perspectives, the more powerful the outcomes. But within the security sector, predominantly all-male panels—or “manels”—suggest a lack of gender diversity, resulting in the exclusion of women, people of non-binary identities, or both. Manels represent a more serious lack of gender inclusion at leadership levels, making it difficult for women to gain recognition through promotion to senior decision-making positions. The following is a discussion of Pacific Forum’s work to study more than nine years of programming with a goal of understanding historical trends in order to implement and measure policies to increase the number of women attending and speaking at Pacific Forum events. The analysis identified room for improvement, and marks a jumping-off point for Pacific Forum’s work on mainstreaming gender within institutional programming.

Click here to download the full paper.

About the Author

Maryruth Belsey Priebe is the Director for Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Programs and a Senior Fellow at Pacific Forum International, is the author of numerous articles on gender and sustainability, and holds a Harvard International Relations graduate degree (2023) for which her thesis, “Gender All the Way Down: Proposing a Feminist Framework for Analyzing Gendered Climate Security Risks” was nominated for the Deans Price for Outstanding ALM Thesis. Using social science, feminist foreign policy perspectives/analyses/theories, and data analysis, her research focuses on the nexus of gender, climate change, and peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. Maryruth’s circular food economy policy work has been selected for inclusion in the OpenIDEO Food Systems Game Changers Lab, and she has held several research and fellowship positions focused on women’s leadership. She is also a Teaching Fellow at Harvard Extension School, a member of the Research Network on Women, Peace & Security in Canada, and is a volunteer for multiple gender-climate causes. Maryruth tweets @greenwriting.

CSCAP Women, Peace and Security Expert Papers (February 2023)

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The October 31, 2000 unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) was a ground-breaking step for women’s leadership and participation. The UNSCR 1325 marked the first time the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognized the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. Over the years, significant efforts and progress have been made in this regard.

To date, 11 states in the Asia Pacific have adopted National Action Plans for the implementation of UNSCR 1325, including two of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, namely, the Philippines and Indonesia. There have been several major efforts building towards a Regional Plan of Action on WPS for ASEAN. Three of note are the Joint Statement on Promoting WPS in ASEAN (2017), the soon-to-be-adopted Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security (2022) and the Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Women (RPA on EVAW) (2015). The Joint Statement is the closest ASEAN has come to a consensus document on UNSCR 1325. The Joint Statement on Promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2019 reaffirmed that commitment and included stronger and more specific language on advancing the agenda in the region. Meanwhile, the RPA on EVAW is a comprehensive framework adopted throughout ASEAN for protecting women against physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, which it recognizes is the result of historical and structural imbalances in power relations between genders. Inclusivity is also a pillar in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Blueprint 2025, and is a key element of the people-oriented, people-centered concept based on international law enshrined in the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) Blueprint 2025. Under the APSC Blueprint, the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) is tasked with helping indoctrinate voices of moderation in the culture of ASEAN. ASEAN-IPR undertakes research, capacity-building, developing a pool of expertise, networking, and information dissemination in service of peace, conflict management, and conflict resolution. It also houses the ASEAN Women for Peace Registry (AWPR, est. Dec. 2018), a network of experts who contribute to the implementation of 2017 Joint Statement. In November 2020, the East Asia Summit signaled its own commitment to supporting the WPS agenda through its Leaders Statement on Women, Peace and Security.

While these are laudable achievements, still more needs to be done to make peace more durable and inclusive and, ultimately, transform international peace and security. The ongoing global pandemic has illustrated how the same event has drastically different effects on women and men. Eight ASEAN member states still lack UNSCR 1325 National Action Plans, while this group of countries works to adopt a regional action plan in 2022. Even with ASEAN, there are major divisions on the WPS agenda. For example, the APSC Blueprint 2025 makes limited mention of women’s rights; these items are siloed under the ASCC. Research has shown that when women’s priorities are at the heart of peace processes and decision-making, from planning to monitoring, prevention will be strengthened, and conflicts will be less likely to relapse so peace can last longer. Advancing women’s participation, leadership, and opportunities in all areas of society, not just in politics, strengthens national economies and societies.

To this end, the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) that provides an informal mechanism for scholars, officials, and others in their private capacities to discuss political and security issues and challenges facing the region, saw the need to conduct a study to further the adoption of WPS agenda in the region. Thus, USCSCAP, represented by Pacific Forum, CSCAP Indonesia, represented by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, and CSCAP New Zealand, co-chaired a CSCAP Study Group focused on the advancement of the WPS agenda in the Asia Pacific, with a particular focus on Southeast Asia. By demonstrating the value and utility of a gender perspective, this study group propagates application of a gendered lens throughout CSCAP studies, providing timely and relevant insights on longstanding policy and security issues. Study group findings—derived from an inclusive Track-2 process consulting stakeholders from academia, civil society, government, and defense communities—are channeled into the Track-1 process as practical policy recommendations to advance the WPS agenda in the region. There is a great deal of interest in the WPS agenda in ASEAN through the ASEAN Socio Cultural Community (ASCC) and various related activities have already begun. The CSCAP study group, by linking Track-2 and Track-1 levels, as well as the ASCC and the APSC, would help channel ASEAN’s energy so it can emerge as a leader of WPS norms in the Asia-Pacific region; especially as they apply to the protection of women in armed conflict and in enhancing their role in the prevention, resolution, and post-conflict reconstruction of such conflicts.

This compilation of Expert Papers presented at the CSCAP Study Group on WPS is published with the aim to advance policy planning, implementation and evaluation that support meaningful participation of women in all parts of security and peace processes. There are four expert papers included in this compilation covering the topic of cybersecurity, disaster management, countering terrorism, and women in security forces. Realizing the myriad of issues on WPS, this compilation represents the laying of but one small paving stone as we seek to build the road to a more equal and inclusive security sector.

In making this compilation of Women, Peace and Security Expert Papers, the editors would like to thank David Capie, Bethan Greener, and Crystal Prior who assisted with the gathering of the experts; Nandita Putri Kusumawati who assisted with the layout and finalization of the report; as well as the experts on WPS, namely Steve Recca, Farlina Said, Keshab Giri, and Ruby Kholifah who contributed their writings to this compilation.

Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

PacNet #22 – Feminist foreign policy and Ukraine: For now, Japan leads the way

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A gendered war is taking place in Ukraine, powered by patriarchal authoritarianism that thrives on unencumbered violence. Some women bravely serve in Ukraine’s military, the media, and in support roles on the front lines. Yet stereotypical gendered norms have been reinforced as most refugees are women, while Ukrainian men must stay and fight. Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) principles seem ignored by the security sector, as women are absent in peace talks, and reports of sexual- and gender-based violence abound. By applying a feminist foreign policy (FFP) lens—focused on a re-imagination of conflict resolution and human security—we consider how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has influenced Indo-Pacific foreign policies, particularly aid, defense, diplomacy, trade, and immigration. We find that Japan stands out as demonstrating alignment with some FFP principles, and may be ripe for formal FFP adoption. Given other Asian states’ mixed responses, however, the invasion of Ukraine may split the Indo-Pacific on this framework.

Aid, sanctions, and immigration

First, FFP principles recommend consideration of women, children, and minority communities in aid provision, with emphasis on humanitarian aid over military/defensive responses. Tokyo has provided ¥12 billion ($95 million) in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and promised more. This aid demonstrates consideration of women by including hygiene products alongside tents, winter clothing, and generators.

Japan is an above average official development assistance (ODA) contributor to gender equality as a member nation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Assistance Committee. To build on this achievement, Japan could stipulate requirements similar to its Jordanian Palestinian Refugees ODA program for its aid to countries accepting Ukrainian refugees. This program included Alleviation of Social Gaps, which prioritized the empowerment of women refugees through vocational training and access to reproductive health education.

A second plank of FFP is prioritization and allocation of resources to peace over state security, including “gender equality [and] … the human rights of all.” As such, arms trade with non-democratic countries that abuse human rights and subjugate women, and Indo-Pacific military build-up would signal anti-feminist responses. Japan has generally set a positive example by supporting Ukraine without inflaming conflict. Its commitment to restricting military equipment exports has led to its supply of bulletproof vests and non-lethal equipment, but no weapons (though it recently announced the shipment of drones). Tokyo, while a recipient of US extended nuclear deterrence, has also warned against any use of nuclear weapons, acknowledging the painful history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Third, emphasizing consultation with and equality of all impacted groups, an FFP perspective opposes neo-colonialism, the forceful control or influence of other states. Meanwhile, sanctions are not the preferred option because they typically hurt those already most vulnerable. Sanctions, however, are less militaristic than lethal support, and therefore more acceptable in FFP terms. Eight years ago, when Russia annexed Crimea, Japan failed to sanction Moscow in a bid to maintain diplomatic talks over islands both Russia and Japan claim as their own. By contrast, Japan has moved more decisively in 2022, following US and EU sanctions early on. To date, Japan has restricted Russian banks, and sanctioned oligarchs, companies, and military entities. While Japan still relies on Russian fuel, seafood, and various goods, it has revoked Russia’s most-favored nation trade status, impacting  ¥1.54 trillion ($12 billion) in imports.

Fourth, a country’s FFP would also need to include a generous immigration policy, in this case focusing on the 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees rather than state security. Japan has considered amending its limited immigration policy and opened its doors to friends and family members of its Ukrainian population. The new policy would allow them to stay longer or work.

It won’t be an easy fix—Japan’s past hesitancy towards refugees will require complete immigration policy transformation to align with FFP principles. In 2020, Japan approved 47 out of 3,936 asylum applications (1.19% of the total). Though an improvement from 2019’s 0.42% acceptance rate, other countries are accepting more Ukrainians in response to the crisis. Still, Tokyo seems determined to lessen restrictions. To demonstrate national support for the consideration of individual refugees, Japanese Foreign Minister Hiyashi Yoshimasa returned to home from Poland personally escorting 20 Ukrainian refugees.

A divided Indo-Pacific?

The provision of military aid is essential for FFP precedent. While Japan is all-but-mandated to follow FFP-aligned guidelines due to Article 9 restrictions, other countries with fewer hurdles can more easily adapt their aid distribution.

What precedent, then, does Japan’s restriction of military aid to Ukraine set for its future responses to a conflict in Asia? Furthermore, in case of a contingency—such as China invading Taiwan—how might the reactions of Indo-Pacific countries to the Ukraine crisis predict alignment with feminist values? There has been debate about whether comparing Taiwan to the invasion of Ukraine makes sense, but in either case we are likely to see both adhesion to and straying from FFP principles.

The Indo-Pacific is split on Ukraine. The only other Indo-Pacific nation to demonstrate a feminist-aligned response to Ukraine is New Zealand, which sanctioned Russia and sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine instead of weapons. Australiadid all that and sent military aid. South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have been moderately aligned in their responses, with offers to support other countries’ refugee intakes financially and cut trade ties with Russia and implement sanctions, but refusing to accept Ukrainian refugees.

Most states, however, have been quiet on Russian sanctions and avoided direct criticism. Vietnam has vaguely condemned Russia, but abstained from voting on the March 2 UN Security Council resolution deploring the invasion. India has worked around Western sanctions, while China has criticized sanctions amid misogynistic remarks about Ukrainian women. Smaller countries like the Federated States of Micronesia have cut diplomatic relations with Russia without imposing sanctions. The Philippines offered military bases to the United States if the war spreads to Asia, but moved ahead with the purchase of Russian defense equipment. Similarly, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Malaysia have chosen to protect Russian arms trade over supporting Ukraine. Given anti-colonialist affinities between Indo-Pacific nations and Ukraine, failing to offer stronger, clearer alignment with the West’s rules-based order and with feminist principles may be a lost opportunity for smaller Indo-Pacific states.

It is unclear if Japan’s response is what Ukrainian feminists want. Japan, however, has taken what might be considered feminist approaches to foreign policy, offering humanitarian aid, resisting calls to provide military support, sanctioning Russia, and even increasing its intake of refugees. In so doing, Japan has modeled a foreign policy that other nations should emulate, especially smaller states, which could face similar threats in the future. Feminist foreign policy advocates hope that it continues to do so, while also addressing domestic gender equality challenges faced by Japanese women and its LGBTQ community. Any attempt at formal adoption of a Japanese FFP should include self-reflection on where Japan stands internationally on domestic gender policies, especially if Tokyo wants to set an example for other Indo-Pacific countries.

Hannah Cole ([email protected]) is Program & Publications Manager and Non-resident James A. Kelly Korea Fellow at Pacific Forum. Maryruth Belsey-Priebe ([email protected]) is a Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum and Harvard International Relations graduate student. Tevvi Bullock ([email protected]) is a WPS Fellow at Pacific Forum and PhD candidate in Gender, Climate & Humanitarian Action at Monash University.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP3 — Feminist Peace and Security and The Other ASEAN Way

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Executive Summary

This paper aims to critically re-examine the role of the “ASEAN Way” and regional governance more broadly in promoting feminist peace and security in Southeast Asia. Expansive definition and aspirations embodied by the ASEAN Way are typically traded for a more state-centric version. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the failures and limitations of regional governance, and rarely for its virtues. Consequently, insufficient attention has been paid to how the ASEAN Way also relates to the agency of regional networks of civil society actors who collectively serve as the permanent background to regional governance in Southeast Asia. Bringing together disparate international relations scholarship on ASEAN regionalism and the WPS agenda, this paper makes a case for the importance of recognizing this other and less examined aspect of ASEAN Way to arrive at a fuller account of both ASEAN regionalism and the gendered root causes of insecurity in Southeast Asia. It concludes with a recommendation to rectify knowledge gaps on the various strategies regional civil society networks employ to advance human rights and wellbeing in ASEAN including those aligned with the WPS agenda, while adapting to the enormous challenge of building and caring for a regional community perpetually beset by multiple crises.

About the author

Dr Maria Tanyag ([email protected]) is a Fellow / Senior Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University. She was awarded her PhD from Monash University in 2018. Maria received first class honours for both her MA (Research) and BA Honours in Political Studies from the University of Auckland, New Zealand; and a BA in Political Science magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She was selected as one of the inaugural International Studies Association (ISA) Emerging Global South Scholars in 2019, and as resident Women, Peace and Security Fellow at Pacific Forum in 2021.


Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP2 — Compound Gender-Climate-Security Threats and Vulnerabilities within the Indo-Pacific

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Executive Summary

In 2021, signs of climate change intensification were evident in unprecedented wildfires, floods, cyclones, landslides, suggesting that climate-security threats are intensifying as well. Home to several rising powers and strategic trading partners, the Indo-Pacific is a vital region for the United States, yet it is one of the most vulnerable regions in terms of climate threats. A McKinsey report states that, “Asia stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risk than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation.”[1] Other research has shown that Asian countries have the highest numbers of people exposed to climate hazards such as floods, droughts, and storms.[2]

Climate change is an emerging security risk, and one that deserves greater study given the significant diversity of security and climate scenarios. In particular, the role of women as sources of climate security intelligence has been understudied. This paper aims to correct that oversight and assess which countries within the Indo-Pacific have the greatest combined gender-climate-security risk factors and why. A detailed breakdown of data from several indices related to fragility, gender inequality, conflict, and climate change is summarized for all countries within the area covered by the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in Table 1. Using this data, this paper examines in greater depth Bangladesh, Fiji, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam—due to their diversity in environmental conditions and political conditions—to determine their specific gender-climate-security challenges. This paper begins with an overview of a gender-climate-security framework, provides focus country assessments, examines US INDOPACOM’s greatest vulnerabilities, and explores ways in which women may act as bellwethers of emerging climate-related conflicts if meaningfully and consistently consulted.

[1] “Climate Risk and Response in Asia” (McKinsey Global Institute, November 24, 2020), 7, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/climate-risk-and-response-in-asia.

[2] Joshua Busby et al., “In Harm’s Way: Climate Security Vulnerability in Asia,” World Development 112 (December 1, 2018): 88–118, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.07.007.

About the author

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ([email protected]) is a non-resident Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum International, a Harvard International Relations graduate student, and the author of numerous articles. Using social science, feminist foreign policy perspectives/analyses/theories, and data analysis, her research focuses on the nexus of gender, climate change, and peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. Maryruth’s circular food economy policy work has been selected for inclusion in the OpenIDEO Food Systems Game Changers Lab, and she has held several research and fellowship positions focused on women’s leadership. She is also a member of Harvard’s Climate Leaders Program and the Research Network on Women, Peace and Security, and is a volunteer for multiple gender-climate causes. Maryruth tweets @greenwriting.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, WP1 – Progress and Challenges to Implementing Women, Peace and Security in Southeast Asia

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Executive Summary

October 2020 marked 20 years since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), which is a cornerstone of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of its passage, this paper assesses the implementation of UNSCR 1325 across Southeast Asia. It provides an in-depth analysis of progress and challenges to realizing core WPS commitments and achieving gender equality in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. These countries were selected because each has endured recent or ongoing conflict and instability. In addition, five of these states are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), allowing the study to explore the institutionalization of WPS within regional forums and how this shapes national-level WPS implementation.

About the author

Jennifer Howe ([email protected]) is a PhD student at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Her research examines the under-explored relationship between truth commissions and violent extremism, with a particular focus on the ongoing conflict in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. She is a committee member of the King’s-based initiative, Women in War and International Politics, and a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Divided Societies. Prior to joining King’s, Jennifer worked as a resident Women, Peace and Security Fellow at the Pacific Forum. Her publications have investigated the impact of COVID-19 on conflict resolution and gender equality in Southeast Asia. She holds an M.A. in Politics and International Relations from Durham University, where she assessed the relationship between human rights compliance and transitional justice in East Asia.

PacNet #23 –How Women, Peace and Security Gives the US and Australia an Edge in the Indo-Pacific

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The following is a summary of the authors’ article published in Pacific Forum’s Issues & Insights. Read the full article here.

While empowering women may be a long-game strategy for retaining the edge in great power competition, it may also be one of the few remaining tools the United States and Australia have for achieving a thin margin of excellence. Great power competition has become a central issue for both Australia and the United States, due primarily to narrowing military and economic gaps on the global stage.

For Australian intelligence and security officials, the “air-sea gap” defense strategy is no longer sufficient for limiting China’s influence in the Pacific. The “Pacific Step-Up” strategy calls for Australia to respond to priorities identified by Pacific leaders, including climate and disaster resilience, and has been an important and helpful shift for Australia in this regard. Knowing that China cannot afford static growth or technological inferiority, American foreign policy experts recognize China’s increasing economic influence in the Indo-Pacific, and have sounded the alarm about America’s shrinking economic advantage. Given these realities, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) is a smart power tool Australia and the US could use to gain a competitive edge.

Realizing the benefits of this advantage will require full implementation of the Australian and American WPS National Action Plans (NAPs), with a particular focus on harnessing the potentials of both women and men to protect against insecurity and violence. Security and peace-making professionals need to be able to respond to different threat scenarios, and the security of the whole of the community during and after crises. Women servicemembers and gender perspectives strengthen security and peacemaking responses by adding to the diversity of insights and priorities.

Research finds that “women and men with hostile attitudes towards women, and towards gender equality in general, are not just more prone to extremist views … they are also more likely to actually support violent groups and to participate in political violence.” The WPS agenda challenges these and other gender stereotypes that undermine conflict prevention, thereby providing new pathways to peacebuilding.

In contrast to American and Australian approaches, on the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, Russia put forth a China-supported resolution that threatened to reverse progress made on preventing conflict-related sexual violence and other Women, Peace and Security matters. Further, Chinese policies reinforcing traditional women’s roles, including a ban on women from 19% of China’s civil service jobs, have been partially responsible for creating increased competitiveness in the job market, allowing employers to discriminate against women. This underutilization of human capital has weakened China’s labor market efficiency, causing a drag on economic growth, and imposing a cost on China’s economy.

Additionally, China’s one-child policy resulted in sex-selective abortions and femicide, leading to a gender imbalance in China’s populationwhich has been exacerbated by the fact that more well-educated women are choosing not to have children. Today, there are more adult men than women in China. The problem is so prominent that unmarried men are now referred to as “bare branches.” Due to their lack of family and societal ties, these men have been shown to be more prone to crime and violence, a reality that threatens both China’s domestic stability as well as international security.

China is clearly not maximizing the advantages women offer to security, thereby opening the door for the US and Australia to widen the “advantage gap” in a meaningful way. Furthermore, while China has funded small-scale women’s health projects through multilateral support for the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, there exist opportunities for Australia and America to strategically invest in gender equity in the Indo-Pacific to further increase their competitiveness in the region. As former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop put it, “[c]ompetition is ever-present and relentless” and “[w]hile non-democracies such as China can thrive when participating in the present system, an essential pillar of our preferred order is democratic community.”

The US National Action Plan on WPS 

The United States’ first WPS National Action Plan was enacted in 2010 under the Obama administration, updated in 2016, and superseded by the 2017 Women, Peace and Security Act. With reporting requirements to Congress for relevant federal agencies, the 2017 Act mandates the development of a whole-of-government WPS strategy. The United States thus has the opportunity to provide a model for other progressive countries to follow.

Whilst structural barriers are down, however, cultural barriers and biases, and “roadblocks to gender inclusivity,” remain. Funding amounts have not risen substantially since the Defense Department’s initial allocation of $4 million (from a $1.3 trillion budget) to WPS in fiscal year 2019. Consequently, implementation has largely been dependent on individual leaders’ knowledge and command-relevant prioritization of the WPS framework.

Problematically, many American security practitioners are unaware of the basic WPS tenants, and WPS has not been a part of core Professional Military Education. The Naval War College is gradually integrating WPS in its curriculum, yet more training opportunities for gender advisors, and their regular access to leadership, are needed. Following setbacks through COVID-19, a strong indicator that the United States is getting serious about UNSCR 1325 will be when departmental budgets are at a level to facilitate substantial implementation.

The Australian WPS NAP

The Australian Government adopted a second WPS NAP in April 2021, reaffirming Australia’s commitment and regional leadership on WPS after a lengthy delay. The 10-year plan focuses on four outcomes: supporting women’s meaningful participation and needs in peace processes; reducing sexual and gender-based violence; supporting resilience, crisis, and security, law and justice efforts to meet the needs and rights of all women and girls; and demonstrating leadership and accountability for WPS.

Under the first NAP (2012-2018), the implementation record of Defence (Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Ministry of Defence) indicated noteworthy progress: the number of women serving in the ADF increased substantially and targets are in place to achieve 25% women in the navy and air force, and 15% in the army, by 2023. Further, significant impact was achieved with regard to the growing awareness of WPS in the Indo-Pacific region, including by means of Australian support of other militaries’ WPS implementation strategies through joint exercises and capacity-building.

Indeed, the Gender, Peace and Security directorate under the Joint Capabilities Group aims to make the ADF “a world leader in implementing the military component” of the WPS action plan. For several years, Australia has run its own training “GENAD” course for military gender advisors, and gender advisors have been routinely deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan. Still, while the 2020 Defence Strategy Update mentioned the intensification of major power competition and the prospect of future inter-state conflict, human security threats and greater instability in the Indo-Pacific, no mention was made of WPS commitments.


Given the shifts in the global and regional security environment, including the equalizing of US and Chinese power and the range of threats to human and state security, the WPS agenda is an underappreciated asset. The contemporary leadership on WPS shown by the US and Australia, in diplomacy, development and military cooperation, needs to be built upon in the Indo-Pacific region in partnership with key allies to further strengthen efforts to promote gender-inclusive military and peacekeeping forces, and gender-responsive analysis of growing traditional and non-traditional security challenges.

Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese ([email protected]) is a professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College.

Dr. Jacqui True ([email protected]) is a professor of International Relations and Director of Monash University’s Centre for Gender, Peace and Security.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.