AWEN and its role in ASEAN

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M. A. P. Insights
By Pacita U. Juan

It is a tall order to gather the needs of over 300 million women in ASEAN so that policy changes may be suggested to policy makers in the 10-member states.

But in 2014, an excellent idea was proposed to create a network among the women organizations in the private sector as well as endorsements from women’s ministries and agencies. This was the creation of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) by the ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW), thus making the network a true daughter of the regional group.

AWEN is composed of 10 focal points — what the persons representing each member state is called. The Focal Points (FP) are from prime women business organizations, chosen by the Ministry of Women or its equivalent and are tasked to deliver issues to AWEN and take back possible policy solutions to their constituents. Policy changes affecting women in business are supported by AWEN’s collaboration with the other private sector group called ASEAN-Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC). The agency is interested in supporting AWEN and has already invited AWEN to take a seat in its Joint Business Councils (JBC). This interesting development allows the women agenda to be discussed among many business councils of dialogue partners and makes possible the inclusion of women’s interests in all business discussions. The ASEAN BAC represents the big business groups while AWEN may be representing the MSMEs.

AWEN went through some challenges in choosing the private organizations to be consulted in each member state. Most countries had more than one women’s organization. This made it difficult to choose one over the other in the spirit of true representation. During the chairmanship of the Philippines (2016-2018), we championed an idea to create an umbrella group or organization called Philwen.

Soon Thailand followed suit with AWEN Thailand. And just recently Cambodia is in the process of creating Cambodia AWEN. Myanmar is also on the way to achieving this unification among its women groups. It is our hope that the other countries soon follow to make AWEN truly representative of Asean’s 300 million plus female population.

The other advantage of having just one network for ASEAN women is in connecting with the rest of the world. Already India’s FICCI-FLO or FICCI Ladies Organization (the women chapter of the 90-year-old Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce) invited us to be represented in the Delhi Dialogue which desires to connect to businesses in ASEAN.

In September, the rest of South Asia — a group called the South Asian Women Development Forum (SAWDF) has invited AWEN members as speakers and as delegates in the first forum to be held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

And ASEAN is moving along as it celebrates its 50th year and with the Philippines as host country. ASEAN officials now have recognized that women’s issues need to be included in economic discussions with economic ministers and later with the leaders, of course.

Also in September, AWEN is invited to connect with businesswomen of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The possibilities keep coming our way because the time has come for women to claim their place and influence the laws that will benefit women-owned enterprises, women workers and female executives.

It is with pride that we celebrate AWEN’s fourth year with the 3rd AWEN Business awards for women and the conduct of the ASEAN women’s business conference this August in Manila since the Philippines is the host country for this year — ASEAN’s 50th anniversary. The women in the Philippines are known to be trailblazers both in the MSME sector as well as the corporate executive community. That said, the Philippines will make sure that policies proposed by AWEN members will be discussed at high level official meetings. This will make all the member states adopt a resolution or a policy imperative to benefit women entrepreneurs throughout ASEAN.

We hope to carry the suggestions forward to the ministers and leaders in the hope that women’s concerns may be addressed. The region-wide concerns will be addressed through policy changes and reforms that will benefit each woman entrepreneur who will affect the greater population of girls and women who number about 300 million in the 10 member states.

AWEN may be the key to open the opportunities and fix the many challenges women face in simply doing business to make a living, to make a difference and to make ASEAN women internationally competitive and successful.

For more information, you may e-mail awen.asean@gmail.com or log on to www.awen-asean.org or find us on Facebook: AWEN-Asean Women Entrepreneurs Network.

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.

Pacita “Chit” U. Juan is the Chair of the Trade, Investments and Tourism Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). She is the Chair of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN); Chair of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines (Womenbizph); and Founding Chair of the Women Corporate Directors PH chapter.

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