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Women and Development, Not Gender and Politics: Explaining ASEAN’s Failure to Engage with the Women, Peace and Security Agenda


Women and Development, Not Gender and Politics: Explaining ASEAN’s Failure to Engage with the Women, Peace and Security Agenda

While questions have been asked about whether ASEAN could, or even should, adopt the United Nation’s Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, this article is the first to ask why it has not done so already. ASEAN’s strong engagement with gender issues beyond the WPS agenda, together with the pressing need to address conflict and security concerns within Southeast Asia, make this an absence that requires an explanation. I argue that the usual explanatory framework deployed to account for ASEAN “not doing” something – the weaknesses caused by consensus, unanimity and the “ASEAN Way” – do not explain the absence of the WPS agenda; ASEAN’s engagement with gender is too advanced for the “it does not want to” explanation to hold. Instead, I locate the failure to engage with the WPS agenda in a particular elite understanding of women as both non-political and vehicles for the realization of economic and social well-being.

This elite mindset, which both differs from that found within the ASEAN institutions dedicated to gender issues and which serves as the key driver of ASEAN’s institutional design, has retarded engagement with WPS because it stands at odds with the active political agency of women that WPS promotes. Revealing this reason for ASEAN’s faiiure to institutionalize WPS provides a way to consider the future of this important set of norms. I argue that efforts to mainstream WPS must take account of this ingrained framing of women as apolitical if they are to he successful.

While questions have been asked about whether ASEAN could, or even should, adopt the United Nation’s Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, this article is the first to ask why it has not done so already. ASEAN’s strong engagement with gender issues beyond the WPS agenda, together with the pressing need to address conflict and security concerns within Southeast Asia, make this an absence that requires an explanation. I argue that the usual explanatory framework deployed to account for ASEAN “not doing” something – the weaknesses caused by consensus, unanimity and the “ASEAN Way” – do not explain the absence of the WPS agenda; ASEAN’s engagement with gender is too advanced for the “it does not want to” explanation to hold. Instead, I locate the failure to engage with the WPS agenda in a particular elite understanding of women as both non-political and vehicles for the realization of economic and social well-being. This elite mindset, which both differs from that found within the ASEAN institutions dedicated to gender issues and which serves as the key driver of ASEAN’s institutional design, has retarded engagement with WPS because it stands at odds with the active political agency of women that WPS promotes. Revealing this reason for ASEAN’s faiiure to institutionalize WPS provides a way to consider the future of this important set of norms. I argue that efforts to mainstream WPS must take account of this ingrained framing of women as apolitical if they are to he successful.

Keywords: ASEAN, Women, Peace and Security, gender, human rights, mainstreaming.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations‘ (ASEAN) declarations and documents have long mentioned the role of women in economics and social cohesion, and more recently the organization has explicitly committed itself to gender mainstreaming goals.1 Yet the compatibility between much of ASEAN’s activities in this area and the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda that was adopted by the United Nations in Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000 has not been recognized by ASEAN.2 Indeed, ASEAN has avoided any institutionalization of the WPS agenda. As highlighted in the preamble of Resolution 1325, the WPS agenda exposes the experiences of women as the “vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict” and seeks to address those experiences by improving the ability of women to proactively address those concerns. As such, the WPS agenda focuses on recognizing and cementing the political agency of women to participate fully in their communities and home countries.

The absence of the WPS agenda from the formal commitments of ASEAN is puzzling for three reasons. First, there is strong consensus that Southeast Asia is a region where the patterns of violence and repression reveal a clear need for a WPS agenda.3 Second, over the last fifteen years, ASEAN has moved to engage, albeit haltingly, with civil and political human rights, showing that it is at least willing to talk about the issue of individual political agency that is so central to the WPS agenda. Third, ASEAN has positioned its commitment to human rights as a vital pre-requisite for the realization of regional peace and security, indicating that the link between individual well-being and traditional concerns regarding state security has already been made.

In this article I tackle a question that has yet to be addressed in the literature concerned with WPS and how ASEAN relates to that agenda – not whether ASEAN should, or even could, adopt a WPS agenda, but instead, why has it not yet done so? Why has a regional organization with a long history of engagement with women and an “on paper” commitment to peace, security, and human rights not developed any explicit engagement with the WPS agenda?

While traditional explanations of ASEAN’s failure to act in this regard emphasize the deleterious effect of the “ASEAN Way” – the norms of consensus and unanimity that continue to predominate within ASEAN – and the inability of diverse states to generate agreement, I argue that this approach does not explain the details of ASEAN’s engagement with women. Were the traditional explanations to hold, we should expect to see the same type of engagement with the WPS agenda as we do with other human rights issues in ASEAN: nominal commitment diluted with parallel and dominant commitments to non-intervention and consensus. Instead, we see something very different – a complete official silence on WPS. To explain this silence, I argue that the ASEAN elites remain largely committed to a conservative understanding of women (and crucially, not gender) as a homogeneous and separate category that requires specific and separate institutions. Significantly, this understanding of women has allowed elites to also frame addressing women’s issues as a vehicle in which to achieve their pre-existing concerns with economic growth and social and political stability, goals that are at the very heart of ASEAN’s mission. This traditional understanding of women by elites curtails the ability of those elites to engage with the WPS agenda because it renders them resistant to perceiving, let alone valuing, the gendered conception of agency which is at the heart of the WPS agenda. The conservative milieu of ASEAN elites is often occluded by the more proactive and activist nature of those who work within ASEAN’s gender architecture who are often “practitioner-activists”, and we must distinguish between the array of work plans, declarations and commissions, and the reason why elites have allowed and encouraged such an approach to flourish.

I start by presenting the development of ASEAN’s commitment to gender and its evolution into the system that is in place today. I then highlight the apparent compatibility of the WPS agenda with ASEAN’s agenda and ask why the WPS agenda is absent from ASEAN. I frame that absence as a consequence not of ASEAN’s usual antipathy towards proactive commitments that concern citizens, but instead as a particularly traditionalist account of gendered agency. The revelation of this “hidden” reason behind the absence of the WPS agenda provides a platform from which to consider the potential for ASEAN to engage with the WPS agenda in the future. At the close of the article, I examine the November 2015 ASEAN 2025 document as a way to both identify potential avenues to progress WPS within ASEAN and to consider the remaining obstacles to such progress.

ASEAN’s Commitment to Women and Gender Concerns

My aim in this opening section is to present the nature of ASEAN’s position on women and gender by examining the historic evolution of that commitment from the 1970s. In particular, I emphasize how that commitment has grown over time from an interest in women to an explicit engagement with gender and questions of agency, at least at the level of the “practitioner-activists” who work within the institutions of ASEAN that are concerned with women/ gender.

expressly endorses or seeks to implement core aspects of the WPS agenda related to ensuring women are central to all aspects of peace and security policy”.25 ASEAN’s silence on the WPS agenda is perplexing – not only are the norms of the WPS agenda seemingly compatible with ASEAN’s contemporary approach to gender, but engaging with the WPS agenda would have a range of positive benefits for ASEAN more generally.

There is also no room for the argument that ASEAN would not engage with the WPS agenda because of its political sensitivity. Through its engagement with human rights more generally, ASEAN has shown a willingness to put in writing contentious civil and political issues. The 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration details issues as wide ranging as elections, democracy and political freedoms. As already noted, we can criticize these as being weak and lacking enforcement.26 My argument, however, does not depend on the efficiency of these commitments, but rather on their presence, or in the case of the WPS agenda, their absence. The absence of the WPS agenda is all the more surprising given that since the 2004 Vientiane Action Programme, ASEAN has framed its engagement with human rights as a necessary pre-requisite for the realization of its peace and security agenda.27 Gender is a central analytical variable that is necessary to appreciate what security is and how to achieve it, and the rationale for feminist security studies specifically (but also gender within international relations generally) has been to explicate this linkage.28 By not engaging with the WPS agenda, ASEAN elites are curtailing their ability to realize the most central goals of ASEAN.

Why is ASEAN so Unwilling to Commit to the WPS Agenda?

Realizing the self-defeating nature of ASEAN’s disinclination to engage with the WPS agenda poses a series of challenges for us when trying to understand why this disinclination exists. Any explanation must not just find a reason why there is an absence of the WPS agenda, but must also explain why this absence exists alongside the rather progressive, if weakly enforced, gender system that ASEAN has created, and the similarly weak but institutionalized commitment to civil and political human rights that has recently emerged through documents such as the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. We are not, therefore, simply explaining an absence; we must explain an absence amid a range of other commitments. This absence is worth querying regardless of whether ASEAN’s adoption of human rights and women’s rights has come about because of persuasion and moral conversion to the value of those norms, or because of strategic engagement with values for legitimacy purposes,29 or because of processes of mimetic adoption and institutional isomorphism,30 because it is clearly different to ASEAN’s usual modus operandi.

In this section, I critique the account of the inherent weaknesses caused by the “ASEAN Way” which is most often proffered when ASEAN has failed to do something. This explanation does not account for the absence of the WPS agenda within the context I have described. I suggest an alternative elucidation which focuses on the disconnection between the elite understanding of women as a separate group, the facilitation of which serves additional strategic benefits, and the more activist and progressive understanding of gender as a key variable of political change that dominates those ASEAN institutions dedicated to women.

The usual explanation for why ASEAN has failed to “do something” identifies ASEAN’s aversion to overly strong commitments, especially where those commitments might probe the relationship between national governments and their citizens. This tension has been central to academic enquiry into ASEAN in general31 and human rights in particular.32 Central to this sceptical vision is the role of the “ASEAN Way”, the peculiar set of norms that shape ASEAN’s approach to regional affairs and which centralize principles of consensus, consultation, unanimity and non-intervention.33

Those who use the “ASEAN Way” to explain failure emphasize how this procedural set of norms interacts with ASEAN’s diverse membership. We can see an example of this in the terms of reference of the AICHR that tie that institution explicitly to the purposes and principles of ASEAN as expressed in the ASEAN Charter. The Charter highlights the purposes of ASEAN and includes the need to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms”, although it continues “with due regard to the rights and responsibilities of the Member States of ASEAN”.34 Article 2 outlines what ASEAN means when it references the rights and responsibilities of states, calling for the “respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all ASEAN Member States”.35 This defence of the sovereign rights of members is augmented with further commitments to “non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member States”, and “respect for the right of every Member State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion and coercion”.36 There is a call for adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional governance, but its position low down in Article 2 (Article 2(2h)) made it subservient to those points prior to it.

So powerful is the ASEAN defence of the rights of its member states to complete domestic freedoms we find it even in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. The Declaration comprises forty articles that outline a surprisingly broad conception of rights, and even goes so far as in, at the end of the final article stating that “[nothing can be construed as permitting] the destruction of any of the rights and fundamental freedoms set forth in this Declaration and international human rights instruments to which ASEAN Member States are parties”.37 Yet Article 40 also includes, as its opening clause, that “nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to perform any act aimed at undermining the purposes and principles of ASEAN”.33 These principles, as just noted, centralized non-intervention and a strong defence of the sovereign rights of states as the very raison d’etre of ASEAN’s existence. This “ASEAN synthesis” of human rights commitments with non-intervention norms39 has become the standard operating procedure of contemporary ASEAN.

It would be easy, perhaps even appealing, to consider the failure to adopt the WPS agenda as another manifestation of this phenomenon. However, closer scrutiny of ASEAN’s engagement with gender suggests this is not the case. As already mentioned, what is surprising about the discussion of women within ASEAN is not that it mirrors the approach that has come to characterize how ASEAN deals with human rights concerns – weak commitments to rights paralleled by overwhelmingly strong restatements of nonintervention – but that within the work plans and declarations there is a more progressive agenda than expected. This detail at the “practitioner-activist” level of ASEAN’s gender architecture is accompanied not by “on paper” commitments to the WPS agenda with the usual restatement of non-intervention by ASEAN elites, but by complete silence on the WPS agenda. This silence is more surprising than would be the “usual approach” of ASEAN and so suggests that something else must be happening to explain this strange coexistence of women’s issues in ASEAN.

As such, we need to look elsewhere to explain why ASEAN’s commitment to gender has not included an engagement with WPS. The reason why the WPS agenda has not been adopted within ASEAN originates in a particular shared mindset that characterizes much of ASEAN’s political elite in their understanding of gender. I frame this understanding as traditional inasmuch as it focuses on women, not gender, and understands women as a homogenized group with separate needs and requirements best served by separate institutions.40 I further frame this understanding as conservative because elites have linked this approach to gender with a strategy for securing particular ends, not as a goal in and of itself. It is a fundamentally apolitical vision of women that does not recognize their ability, or the benefit of women’s political agency, but instead seeks to use women as a mechanism to achieve economic growth, poverty reduction and social cohesion. These are not bad goals, but the reasons they were selected suggest an inability to move towards the specifically gendered and political account at the heart of the WPS agenda. My argument here parallels claims made by others who have studied why women are often spoken about in reference to economics. In particular, Beatrix Campbell has investigated the way that Asian developmental capitalism has resulted in a “neo-patriarchal” approach to bringing women into the economy without a concern with the gendered assumptions behind that inclusion.41

For this claim to be plausible, two things need to be done: first, reveal that there is a distinct elite attitude regarding women that fundamentally differs from the more engaged and gender sensitive commitments I have outlined; and second, explain why this elite attitude exists and how it has been maintained over time.

The ASEAN Summit record reveals this particular and traditional framing of gender at the elite level. The Joint Communiqué of the Third ASEAN Heads of Government Meeting held in Manila in 1987 called for women to have “maximum involvement in the future development of the region”.42 The link between women and development was echoed in the fourth summit of 1992,43 and notably the only mention of women was not under security cooperation, but under “functional issues”. This positioning of women as something to be dealt with outside of political/security concerns continued after the AFC. ASEAN Vision 2020, released in December 1997, spoke of women in the contexts of both creating caring societies and ensuring the resilience of the family as the “basic unit” of society.44 The Bali II Accords of October 2003 mentioned women, only in passing, as an important component of raising living standards and addressing patterns of rural poverty.45 The 2004 Vientiane Action Programme, so important in the story of how human rights were wedded to the growing security/political pillar of ASEAN,46 mentions women again within the context of sociocultural cooperation – reducing the social risks faced by women47 and enhancing women’s participation in the productive workforce.48 The Eminent Persons Group that was established to think through the content for the ASEAN Charter produced a report in December 2006 which suggested that ASEAN establish principles that include the provision to reject “acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, torture, the use of rape as an instrument of war, and discrimination based on gender”.49 This inclusion was, however, struck out of the final wording of the charter by the High Level Task Force of active politicians who reworked the Eminent Persons Group report into the final text of the Charter, signed in December 2007.50

Explaining why this conservatism exists requires an appreciation of the role of women within the broader process of Southeast Asian regionalism as understood by those elites. ASEAN was founded in 1967 with a singular purpose: to ensure peace between its founding members.51 The goal of regional peace was simultaneously limited given its singularity, and ambitious given the failure of previous regional efforts (for example, Maphilindo and the Association of Southeast Asia) and the political and border tensions among Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.52 The nature of this peace was to be illiberal and elitist. As Alice Ba has persuasively argued, ASEAN was to be a vehicle not for regional integration, but for building national sovereignty.53 ASEAN was meant to reassure members that their fellow members meant them no harm. ASEAN’s famous “light touch” was not an accident or oversight, but was a carefully crafted policy to achieve these goals.54 The bridge between these foundational aims and gender can be found in the second dimension of Ba’s argument that areas of ASEAN cooperation, especially in the area of economics, were designed intentionally to build what she terms “national resilience”. National resilience was not a conscious project of building liberal and democratic societies. It was instead about ensuring domestic tranquillity through a developmental and growth-orientated strategy that would reinforce the power, prestige, and authority of the central governments, many of which (especially Indonesia and Malaysia) were institutionally, politically, and economically weak and simultaneously illiberal.

The interests of its weak members shed important light on why early ASEAN focused on economic and social cohesion and how gender concerns were framed within that context. The Bangkok Declaration spoke of unspecified economic and social cooperation that was developed further in the 1976 Declaration of ASEAN Concord. The Declaration emphasized the dangers of “poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy”, and the need to improve the living standards of people in the region.55 It called for developing industrial capacity in member states through a policy of complementarity as well as “cooperation in the field of social development with an emphasis on the well-being of the low income groups” and in particular the role and status of women.56 The advancement of women was institutionally and aspirationally linked to the realization of ASEAN goals in the field of economic and social cohesion, which were in turn valuable only because they realized an overarching and conservative political agenda of regional peace and security. This assertion colours how we interpret ASEAN’s early engagement with gender issues where the framing of women as vehicles of economic growth, rural development and social cohesion were goals which illiberal governments desired for performance legitimacy. These goals were repeatedly emphasized in the work of the Sub-Committee, its institutional successor the ASEAN Women’s Programme and indeed the ACW as it stands today.

Why does ASEAN at the elite level continue to talk about women in an economic and social sense, but not gender in a political way? The continuity of ASEAN’s core aims – ensuring the peace and security of its members through reinforcing their sovereignty and legitimacy – is centrally important. These goals are entrenched in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation,57 which forms the principal basis of the ASEAN Charter. The elite understanding of women as a vehicle for the realization of other goals matters because it continues to shape how the upper levels of ASEAN understand why women matter and it provides macro-direction to its engagement with gendered concerns. At the upper echelons of ASEAN, the role of women has been discussed within a “particular organizational context with specific pressures, mandates and ideologies”.53 We can understand these shared contexts as framing women as separate and subservient to masculinized assumptions about politics and security. I do not claim that this engagement was meaningless or designed to fail; instead, I suggest it understood women as a homogenized category with issues and remedies separate from political notions of rights.

We can augment our appreciation of this continuity across ASEAN with conceptual insight from new fields in the study of International Relations. Working from the “practice” perspective and emerging out of discursive institutionalist analysis, scholars have emphasized that the approaches and reasoning created early in an institution’s history form a “received wisdom” that subsequent elites adopt automatically as a form of accepted practice.59 Vincent Pouliot writes that much of what people do “does not derive from conscious deliberation or thoughtful reflection”; rather actions are often automatic, doing what appears to be “common-sense” in any given situation.60 Early ASEAN engagement with gender through the lens of economic and social development, authorized by political elites who understood women’s issues as both subservient to their conservative agenda and as fundamentally non-political, created a particular approach to women that remains constant through to today. The period from the late 1970s until the 1990s helped create a shared intuition about women that endured beyond the AFC, and was facilitated by the continuity of the core ASEAN aspirations as I have outlined them. As ASEAN’s engagement with women expanded after 1997 in the search for ways to realize caring societies, it was self-evident to elites that this commitment was socio-cultural, not political, in nature, because that is where women’s issues had always been housed. This does not mean that those working within the women’s space of ASEAN were similarly bound by this received wisdom, as clearly shown in the increasingly explicit engagement with women as political agents to be found in the various work plans I have discussed. This argument makes sense of the defining characteristics of ASEAN’s gender engagement – the distinction between the elite conservatism and “practitioner-activism” and how the ACWC is positioned within the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, despite its clear rights agenda. Elite conservatism is the inheritance of ASEAN’s deep history, its overall aims and continuity over time. As such, it reveals a disconnection between the aspirations and hard work of practitioners within ASEAN’s gender institutions, and the understanding and framing of those activities by heads of state, government and ministers. It further illuminates, and not necessarily positively, why the ACWC exists separate from the AICHR. Whereas the AICHR deals with far more contentious rights concerning agency, politics, and the relations between government and citizens, gender rights are not viewed as being so contentious as they are not framed as referring to the agency of women so much as their role in strengthening societies, families and cultures.

Realizing WPS within ASEAN

The line of reasoning I have presented above – that ASEAN elites frame gender in a particularly traditional and conservative way, which, in turn, shapes their ability to provide leadership when engaging with WPS matters – suggests that the inclusion of WPS within ASEAN is likely to be gradual and contentious, requiring not just the correction of an omission, but the overhaul of elite perceptions of the relationship between women, gender and their own preconceptions.

In November 2015, ASEAN released its latest “vision statement”, ASEAN 2025, designed to serve as the guiding plan for the development of the ASEAN Community post 2015. ASEAN 2025 reveals both interesting openings for the introduction of WPS into ASEAN moving forward as well as showing the considerable obstacles that remain. ASEAN 2025, in the new blueprint for the Political-Security Community, calls for a “gender mainstreaming in peacebuilding … and conflict resolution”,61 as well as for greater study of the way in which gender can be included in this field, especially through the running of workshop and information sharing activities.62 While the explicit language of WPS is nowhere to be found in ASEAN 2025, such commitments do at least suggest an opening of opportunity for the substance of WPS to emerge within the ASEAN framework (although I further note that the previous Political-Security Community Blueprint of 2009 contained almost identical commitments which have had very limited follow-up, suggesting a fair degree of caution is needed here). This tentative language opens the door to external assistance along the lines suggested by Sara Davies, Kimberley Nackers and Sarah Teitt (workshops, external funding and developing local institutional capacity) to improve ASEAN’s institutional engagement with WPS.63 Perhaps most importantly, the potential inclusion of a gendered perspective on peacekeeping suggests that the hard divisions between “women’s issues” being dealt with through separate institutional provisions within ASEAN, and then security-political concerns being addressed elsewhere, are, if not dissolving, at least starting to blur.

Despite these openings, however, I remain cautious about the short-term likelihood of integrating WPS into ASEAN as an institution. It is not that elites have chosen not to integrate the WPS agenda, or have simply not noticed the agenda; rather they do not “see” the WPS agenda as compatible with their received wisdom. Caroline Moser and Annalise Moser refer to this incompatibility as the organizational culture within which gender concerns emerge.64 The question then becomes how do we change this received wisdom? I worry that mainstreaming is only part of an answer. Mainstreaming, “the idea … that questions of gender must be taken seriously in central, mainstream, ‘normal’ institutional activities and not simply left in a marginalized, peripheral backwater of specialist women’s institutions” seems a valuable tool in integrating WPS.65 Today’s ASEAN talks a great deal about gender mainstreaming (three times in the Vision 2025 document). However, gender mainstreaming approaches must take more care, I believe, to consider both the institutionalized norms that they seek to confront and the way that those norms are not necessarily replaced by newer standards so much as serve as the bedrock for interpreting those new standards. The fact that ASEAN has talked of gender mainstreaming for some time, and yet still not engaged with WPS, cautions the need for care. ASEAN’s institutional structure is both the vehicle for regional reform and the result of gendered assumptions that WPS seeks to overcome. ASEAN’s existing commitments to peace and security are the best existing commitments to be used as “lynch points” in the process of WPS mainstreaming – providing the necessary preexisting context which helps elites realize that WPS “makes sense” as a way to achieve goals they already subscribe to.

However, even here, problems potentially abound. ASEAN’s history of mainstreaming human rights is a worrying example of what can “go wrong” with mainstreaming efforts. Human rights norms were mainstreamed into ASEAN in the mid-2000s (emerging as pre-requisites of regional security cooperation in the Vientiane Action Programme), but this was achieved in a fundamentally conservative way – not by transforming the meaning of security within ASEAN, but by de-radicalizing human rights as the way to achieve that security.66 Human Rights were interpreted as ways to reinforce and protect norms of non-intervention and equality, not as a reason to violate those standards. WPS, if it is to retain its necessary radicalism (both in the critique and solutions it provides to gendered assumptions around the provision, promotion and protection of security), the simple inclusion of its words and language into ASEAN is only a partial step. Gender and WPS concerns do need to be mainstreamed, but to truly realize their economic, political and emancipatory agendas they need to be more than just inserted into mainstream deliberations – they need to reconstitute the mainstream.


More remarkable than the apparent compatibility of ASEAN with the WPS agenda is that this compatibility has yet to be acted on by ASEAN in meaningful ways. This failure to engage with the WPS agenda is all the more surprising given the ongoing security concerns that characterize many ASEAN members, together with what, on paper, is a sophisticated range of commitments to gender in ASEAN dating back to the 1970s, and operationalized in a complex and layered regional institutional architecture. The WPS agenda has emerged alongside the most intense period of regional institutional reform in Southeast Asia’s history that has seen human rights and democracy sit alongside gender as part of ASEAN’s transformation into a “people-centred” organization.

I have argued that the failure to adopt the central tenants of the WPS agenda comes not from the traditional suspect, that is, ASEAN’s supposed unwillingness to engage meaningfully with human rights concerns because of a preoccupation with consensus and non-intervention. Instead, I attribute this failure to something more pernicious: an elite mindset that continues to frame women as not only separate from political concerns, but as fundamentally apolitical. This vision has enabled engagement with women for economic and social reasons, but curtails the ability of regional elites to comprehend women as political agents in their own right and in control of their own destiny, both of which are central to the adoption of the WPS agenda. This elite mindset helps to further explain why so many of the work plans and declarations produced within ASEAN engage with political agency and women in the prism of their own and community/state security, but why these advanced commitments have not filtered up to the highest levels, where any political commitment to the WPS agenda would need to be initiated.

If this line of reasoning is correct, it suggests very real and different challenges for those who work within and alongside ASEAN and who want to realize the WPS agenda. In particular, it suggests that simply revealing the apparent compatibility of ASEAN and the WPS agenda (or at least a compatibility that the observer thinks might exist) is in itself insufficient. Something more substantive is required – a recasting of the elite mindset that understands women in traditionalist ways towards one that is more accepting of women as equal political partners in government, not a subject of that government. The current concern with issues such as gender mainstreaming is thus shown to be problematic, because for gender mainstreaming to effectively achieve the goals, we need to be aware of the norms that constitute that mainstream. It is not simply a matter of inserting gender into the mainstream. It may be a matter of critically appraising and altering that mainstream consensus to more meaningfully engage with gender.

In turn, this reasoning suggests similar caution for a wider range of norms that many wish to promote in ASEAN. Recent concern with the Responsibility to Protect doctrine within ASEAN67 or even more generally human security may identify the need and compatibility of these goals with ASEAN and its members, and may engage proactively with considering how they can be worked into ASEAN’s existing institutions. To substantively advance these goals requires more than the academic consensus that something can happen. It requires an appreciation of why it has not already happened, and the identification of existing normative structures in place that have caused that absence. Those seeking to promote new norms need to think with more care about what the pre-existing norms are that will shape the reception of those new standards.


1 ASEAN, “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together”, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 22 November 2015, Article A.3.2.V, available at <http://www.asean.org/images/ 2015/November/KL-Declaration/KL%20Declaration%20on%20ASEAN%20 2025 % 20Forging% 20 Ahead % 20Together. pdf>.

2 Sara E. Davies, Kimberly Nackers and Sarah Teitt, “Women, Peace and Security as an ASEAN Priority”, Australian Journal of International Affairs 68, no. 3 (2014): 333-55.

3 Ibid., pp. 336-39. See also Jacqui True, Nicole George, Sara Niner and Swati Parashar, “Women’s Political Participation in Asia and the Pacific”, Social Science Research Council Working Paper, October 2014, available at <http:// webarchive.ssrc.org/working-papers/CPPF_WomenInPolitics_03_True.pdf>.

National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, “ASEAN Committee on Women: 30 Years After …” (Manila: National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women for the ASEAN Committee on Women, 2005), p. 10, available at <http://www.pcw.gov.ph/sites/defeult/files/documents/resources/ASEAN%20 Committe e%20on%20 Women. pdf>.

5 Ibid., pp. 12-22.

6 ASEAN, “Declaration of the Advancement of Women in the ASEAN Region”, Bangkok, Thailand, 5 July 1988, Article 1, available at <http://www.asean.org/ communities/asean-socio-cultural-community/item/declaration-of-the-advancementof-women-in-the-asean-region-bangkok-thailand-5-july-1988>.

7 Ibid., Articles 2 and 3.

8 ASEAN, “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region”, Jakarta, 2004, Preamble, available at <http://www.asean.org/communities/ asean-political-security-community/item/declaration-on-the-elimination-ofviolence-against-women-in-the-asean-region-4>.

9 Ibid.

10 ASEAN, “Work Plan for Women’s Advancement and Gender Equality”, 2005, available at <http://pcw.gov.ph/sites/defeult/files/documents/resources/ASEAN%20 Committee%20on%20Women.pdf> (Annex C).

11 ASEAN Committee on Women, “Work Plan to Operationalize the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in ASEAN”, February 2006, pp. 11-12, available at <http://www.dpiap.org/resources/pdf/ASEAN-DeVAW_ Work_Plan_10_07_01.pdf>.

12 Ibid., p. 23.

13 ASEAN, “ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW) Work Plan 2011-2015″, 2012, available at <http://www.asean.org/resources/publications/asean-publications/ item/asean-committee-on-women-acw-work-plan-2011-2015>.

14 Ibid., pp. 13-14.

15 ASEAN, “Ha Noi Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Elimination of Violence Against Children in ASEAN”, 9 October 2013, available at <http://humanrightsinasean.info/system/files/documents/The%20Declaration%20on%20the%20Elimination%20of%20Violence%20 against%20Women%20and%20Children%20in% 20ASEAN_0.pdf?download=l>.

16 Vitit Muntarbhorn, Unity in Connectivity? Evolving Human Rights Mechanisms in the ASEAN Region (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013), pp. 154-45.

17 ASEAN, “The ACWC Work Plan (2012-2016)”, Jakarta, 2-5 July 2012, available at <http://www.asean.org/images/2013/socio_cultural/acwc/acwc%20work%20 plan%202012-2016_final%20published.pdf>.

18 Ibid., Numbers 3, 4, 5.

19 Li-ann Thio, “Implementing Human Rights in ASEAN Countries: ‘Promises to Keep and Miles to Go Before I Sleep’”, Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal 2, no. 1 (1999): 11.

20 Suzannah Linton, “ASEAN States, Their Reservations to Human Rights Treaties and the Proposed ASEAN Commission on Women and Children”, Human Rights Quarterly 30, no. 2 (May 2008): 490.

21 Mathew Davies, “States of Compliance? Global Human Rights Treaties and ASEAN Member States”, Journal of Human Rights 13, no. 4 (2014): 415.

22 “ASEAN Commission on the Rights of Women and Children”, Human Rights in ASEAN Online Platform, available at <http://humanrightsinasean.info/ asean-commission-rights-women-and-children/representatives-women.html>; “Prof. Aurora Javate-De Dios, The Philippines’ Representative to the ACWC for Women’s Rights”, available at <http://www.asean.org/images/2012/Social_ cultural/ACW/acwc_resume/Philippines_Prof%20Aurora%20de%20Dios_ Women. pdf>.

23 United Nations, Security Council Resolution 1820, 19 June 2008, available at <http://www.un.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1820(2008)>.

24 Statement by H.E. Mr Le Hoai Trung, Permanent Representative of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the United Nations on behalf of Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, 6 August 2013, available at <http://www,vietnamun.org/en/vnun,php?id=248&cid=20>.

25 Davies, Nackers and Teitt, “Women, Peace and Security”, op. cit., p. 339.

26 Attilio Pisano, “Human Rights and Sovereignty in the ASEAN Path Towards a Human Rights Declaration”, Human Rights Review 15, no. 4 (December 2014): 391-411; Catherine Shanahan Renshaw, “The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration 2012″, Human Rights Law Review 13, no. 3 (September 2013): 557-79.

27 ASEAN, “Vientiane Action Programme”, 29 November 2004, available at <http:// www.asean.org/archive/ADS-2004.pdf 20-50>.

28 Eric M. Blanchard, “Gender, International Relations, and the Development of Feminist Security Theory”, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, no. 4 (Summer 2003): 1289-1312; J. Ann Tickner, Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992).

29 Mathew Davies, “ASEAN and Human Rights Norms: Constructivism, Rational Choice, and the Action-Identity Gap”, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 13, no. 2 (May 2013): 207-31.

30 Hiro Katsumata, “ASEAN and Human Rights: Resisting Western Pressure or Emulating the West?” Pacific Review 22, no. 5 (2009): 619-37.

31 David Martin Jones and Michael L.R. Smith, “ASEAN’s Imitation Community”, Orbis 46, no. 1 (January 2002): 93-109; Shaun Narine, “ASEAN into the Twenty-first Century: Problems and Prospects”, Pacific Review 12, no. 3 (1999): 357-80.

32 Mely Caballero-Anthony, “Mechanisms of Dispute Settlement: The ASEAN Experience”, Contemporary Southeast Asia 20, no. 1 (April 1998): 48; Miles Kahler, “Legalization as Strategy: The Asia-Pacific Case”, International Organization 54, no. 3 (Summer 2000): 549-71; Narine, “ASEAN into the Twenty-first Century”, op. cit.; Richard Stubbs, “The ASEAN Alternative? Ideas, Institutions and the Challenge to ‘Global’ Governance”, Pacific Review 21, no. 4 (2008): 451-68; Davies, “ASEAN and Human Rights Norms”, op. cit.; Mathew Davies, “The ASEAN Synthesis: Human Rights, Non-Intervention and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration”, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs 14, no. 2 (Summer 2013): 51-59.

33 Tobias Ingo Nischalke, “Insights from ASEAN’s Foreign Policy Co-operation: The ‘ASEAN Way’, a Real Spirit or a Phantom?”, Contemporary Southeast Asia 22, no. 1 (April 2000): 90; Markus Hund, “The Development of ASEAN Norms Between 1997 and 2000: A Paradigm Shift?” ZOPS Occasional Papers 15 (Trier: Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, 2001); Lee Jones, “ASEAN’s Unchanged Melody? The Theory and Practice of ‘Non-Interference’ in Southeast Asia”, Pacific Review 23, no. 4 (2010): 479-502. For debate over the merits of the “ASEAN Way”, see John Ravenhill, “East Asian Regionalism: Much Ado About Nothing?”, Review? of International Studies 35, no. 1 (February 2009): 215-35. For an alternative perspective, see Christopher Roberts, ASEAN Regionalism: Cooperation, Values and Institutionalisation (London: Routledge, 2012).

34 ASEAN, “The ASEAN Charter”, 2007, p. 7, Article 1 (7).

35 Ibid., p. 6, Article 2 (2a).

36 Ibid., p. 6, Article 2 (2e), Article 2 (2f).

37 Ibid.

33 ASEAN, “ASEAN Human Rights Declaration”, 2012, Article 40.

33 Davies, “The ASEAN Synthesis: Human Rights, Non-Intervention and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration”, op. cit, pp. 51-59.

40 See Christine Booth and Cinnamon Bennett, “Gender Mainstreaming in the European Union: Towards a New Conception and Practice of Equal Opportunities?”, European Journal of Women’s Studies 9, no. 4 (November 2002): 433-34.

41 Beatrix Campbell, “After Neoliberalism: The Need for a Gender Revolution”, Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture 56, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 22-23.

42 ASEAN, “Joint Communique of the Third ASEAN Heads of Government Meeting”, Manila, 14-15 December 1987, para. 51, available at <http://www.asean.org/ news/item/joint-communique-the-third-asean-heads-of-govemment-meeting-manila14-15 – dec ember-1987>.

43 ASEAN, “Singapore Declaration of 1992″, Singapore, 28 January 1992, para. 7, available at <http://www.asean.org/news/item/singapore-declaration-of-1992singapore28-j anuary -1992>.

44 ASEAN, “ASEAN Vision 2020″, Kuala Lumpur, 15 December 1997, available at <http://www.asean.org/news/item/asean-vision-2020>.

45 ASEAN, “Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II)”, October 2003, para. C2, available at <http://www.asean.org/news/item/declaration-of-aseanconcord-ii-bali-concord-ii>.

46 Mathew Davies, “Explaining the Vientiane Action Programme: ASEAN and the Institutionalisation of Human Rights”, Pacific Review 26, no. 3 (October 2013): 385-406; Hsien-Li Tan, The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights: Institutionalising Human Rights in Southeast Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

47 ASEAN, “Vientiane Action Programme”, op. cit., para. 3.1 (iii).

48 Ibid., para 3.1 (v).

49 ASEAN, “Report of the Eminent Persons Group on the ASEAN Charter”, December 2006, p. 29, available at <http://www.asean.org/archive/19247.pdf>.

50 See ASEAN, “The ASEAN Charter”, op. cit., pp. 5-7, Article 2.

51 ASEAN, “The ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration)”, 8 August 1967, available at <http://www.asean.org/news/item/the-asean-declaration-bangkokdeclaration>.

52 Nicholas Tarling, Regionalism in Southeast Asia: To Foster the Political Will (Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, 2006), p. 117.

53 Alice Ba, (Re)Negotiating East and Southeast Asia: Region, Regionalism and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2009).

54 This is an argument that disagrees with Michael Leifer’s thesis that this “silence” was evidence of failure. See Michael Leifer, “The ASEAN States: No Common Outlook”, International Affairs 49, no. 4 (October 1973): 607; Michael Leifer, “Regional Order in South-East Asia: An Uncertain Prospect”, The Round Table 64, no. 255 (1974): 309-17.

55 ASEAN, “The Declaration of ASEAN Concord”, Bali, Indonesia, 24 February 1976, Preamble, available at <http://www.asean.org/news/item/declaration-ofasean-concord-indonesia-24-february-1976>.

56 Ibid., paras Cl, C2.

57 ASEAN, “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia”, Indonesia, 24 February 1976, Article 2, available at <http://www.asean.org/news/ item/treaty-of-amity-and-coopérât ion-in-southeast-asia-indonesia-24february-1976-3>.

58 Caroline Moser and Annalise Moser, “Gender Mainstreaming Since Beijing: A Review of Success and Limitations in International Institutions”, Gender Sr Development 13, no. 2 (July 2005): 14.

59 Emanuel Adler, “The Spread of Security Communities: Communities of Practice, Self-Restraint, and NATO’s Post-Cold War Transformation”, European Journal of International Relations 14, no. 2 (June 2008): 195-230; Emanuel Adler and Vincent Pouliot, “International Practices”, International Theory 3, no. 1 (February 2011): 1-36; Mathew Davies, “A Community of Practice? Change and Continuity in ASEAN’s Diplomatic Environment”, Pacific Review (forthcoming); Vivien A. Schmidt, “Taking Ideas and Discourse Seriously: Explaining Change Through Discursive Institutionalism as the Fourth ‘New Institutionalism’”, European Political Science Review 2, no. 1 (February 2010): 1-25; Vivien A. Schmidt, “Reconciling Ideas and Institutions through Discursive Institutionalism”, in Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, edited by Daniel Béland and Robert Henry Cox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 47-64.

60 Vincent Pouliot, “The Logic of Practicality: A Theory of Practice of Security Communities”, International Organization 62, no. 2 (April 2008): 258.

61 ASEAN, “ASEAN 2025: ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025″, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 22 November 2015, Article A.3.2.V, available at <http://www.asean.org/images/2015/November/asean-forging-ahead/ASEAN%20 2025%20Forging%20Ahead% 20Together%205bfinal5d.pdf>.

62 Ibid., Article B.4.4.L

63 Davies, Nackers and Teitt, “Women, Peace and Security”, op. cit., pp. 348-49.

64 Moser and Moser, “Gender Mainstreaming Since Beijing”, op. cit., p. 16.

65 Hilary Charlesworth, “Not Waving But Drowning: Gender Mainstreaming and Human Rights in the United Nations”, Harvard Human Rights Journal 18 (2005): 1.

66 Davies, “Explaining the Vientiane Action Programme”, op. cit.

67 Alex J. Bellamy and Catherine Drummond, “The Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia: Between Non-Interference and Sovereignty as Responsibility”, Pacific Review 24, no. 2 (May 2011): 179-200; Rizal Sukma, “The ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC): Opportunities and Constraints for the R2P in Southeast Asia”, Pacific Review 25, no. 1 (March 2012): 135-52.

68 Yukiko Nishikawa, “Human Security in Southeast Asia: Viable Solution or Empty Slogan?” Security Dialogue 40, no. 2 (April 2009): 213-36; Takashi Terada, “ASEAN and Human Security: Crisis Driven Explanation”, GIARI Working Paper 2010-E-5 (Tokyo: Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration, Waseda University, February 2011).

MATHEW DAVIES is Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in the Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University. Postal address: Acton, Canberra, ACT 2601. Australia; email: Mathew.davies@anu.edu.au.


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