(Remarks delivered at the Special Video Conference of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties Women’s Wing, February 24, 2021, Wednesday.)
Iconic women leaders in global politics
In recent years, many iconic women politicians have emerged. Outstanding women in global politics include Margaret Thatcher in Britain; Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris, the first Asian-African-American and first woman to be elected vice president, in the United States; the formidable Angela Merkel in Germany, undisputedly the first among equals in the leadership ranks of the European Union today. Before them, we had Eleanor Roosevelt and with the founding of Israel, Premier Golda Meir.
In Asia, we had Indira Gandhi of India’s founding Nehru family; Sirimavo Bandaranaike, thrice prime minister of Sri Lanka and the first woman in the world to hold the office; Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who both were elected Philippine president, and Leni Robredo, the current vice president; Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia; Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand; the indomitable Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar; and Sonia Gandhi, the low-profile but tough-minded leader of the Indian National Congress Party.
Our ICAPP Women’s Wing also provides a fitting memorial to the brilliant, strong-willed, and charismatic Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, who was with us at ICAPP’s founding conference in Manila, in September, 2000, at the turn of the new century.
Asian All-Women Anti-Poverty Bank
Nearly 60 percent of women around the world work in the informal economy. They have lower income and are at greater risk of falling into extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 a day).
Millions of women have also lost livelihoods since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reports indicate that the global plague will push 45 million women into extreme poverty, increasing the total number of women living in extreme poverty worldwide to 145 million.
To help address this clear and present danger to the socio-economic well-being of women, we in ICAPP, especially the women leaders who are here today, must ask our respective governments, parliaments and ministries of finance to support the establishment of an Asian All-Women Anti-Poverty Bank, which we had the privilege to propose at the First Meeting of the ICAPP Women’s Wing in Baku in 2013, and which was approved unanimously by the assembly.
The Asian All-Women Anti-Poverty Bank aims to provide small loans for micro-finance business for as low as $500 to $1,000. This will help reduce poverty in the rural areas and in the urban slums of Asia and around the world and help empower poor women by giving them jobs and self-employment. We have seen in Bangladesh and almost everywhere that women historically have a very high repayment record of as much as 98%.
We proposed the creation of this bank since the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other global and regional financial institutions lend only to governments for big-ticket items, mainly for large infrastructure projects.
As part of the grand strategy, we must begin to deliberately promote gender equality in national and local politics; and our member political parties can start by setting minimum gender ratios for our nominees to public office.
For instance, our political party leaders in ICAPP could agree that (say) at least a third – 30-35 percent –of our electoral nominees for national and local posts must be female until at some point our women can achieve parity with our men folks.
Ministry/department of women
But if we really want a major advancement or quantum leap in the status of women in Asia, we must ask our respective governments or parliaments, through our political parties, to create a ministry or department for women in our respective countries. A few countries have already done so but we have to make this as widespread as possible.
These ministries or departments would be dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women at the national and local levels and focus on women’s special concerns in politics and development. These causes would include inclusive economic growth – growth that leaves no one behind – primary health care, particularly of child-bearing women and of infants, basic education and employment.
We believe fervently that only their full involvement and integration in national society and more interaction in Asia and with other women leaders in the world will enable Asia’s women to reach their full potential in the workplace, the marketplace, and the community; and truly help make the 21st Century not just an Asian Century but a “Century of Women.”