Asia Foundation President Addresses Global Leaders at APEC CEO Summit 2013 in Bali

Asia Foundation president David D. Arnold presents the Foundation’s research on women’s entrepreneurship in APEC economies at a sideline event at the APEC CEO Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

San Francisco, California and Bali, Indonesia, October 8, 2013 — The Asia Foundation President David D. Arnold, joined over 1,200 CEOs and 10 heads of member economies in the recent two-day APEC CEO Summit, a high-level meeting to address the Asia-Pacific region’s rapid growth and development. This year’s APEC CEO Summit focused on inclusive and sustainable development, with a special focus on the importance of women as powerful change agents in Asia’s growth trajectory. In line with this focus, Mr. Arnold presented the Foundation’s research on women’s entrepreneurship in four APEC economies at a sideline event hosted by the National Center for APEC and APEC Business Advisory Council.

The broad themes of economic integration and inclusive development across the Asia-Pacific were reflected in remarks by world leaders including John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States; Xi Jinping, President of China; Park Geun-Hye, President of the Republic of Korea; Benigno Aquino III, President of the Philippines; Lee Hsien Loong; Prime Minister of Singapore, among others.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry remarked on the vital role that multilateral fora such as APEC and ASEAN play in supporting a region as economically dynamic as the Asia-Pacific: “APEC has played a critical role in that success by helping governments to align their standards and their practices, by lowering the barriers for women to be full participants, and by making it easier for businesses to reach across borders and find new markets.”

The Asia Foundation shares many of APEC’s key priorities, which are fundamental to the Foundation’s programs. “In an increasingly globalized world, The Asia Foundation realizes that economic integration and cooperation are key to healthy economic development. We are committed – through our innovative and multi-country programming, local partners, and donors – to driving the idea that the advancement of women is central to thriving societies,” said David D. Arnold, Asia Foundation president at the APEC CEO Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

During his remarks, Mr. Arnold highlighted the main findings from The Asia Foundation’s recent study on the many institutional and cultural barriers faced by women: “This is not about providing privileges to women; it is about leveling the playing field to unleash their potential for the benefit of both companies and economies. In other words, supporting women in business makes complete business sense for both the private sector and governments,” he added.

According to The Asia Foundation report, “Access to Trade and Growth of Women’s SMEs in APEC Developing Economies: Evaluating the Business Environment in Indonesia,” women-owned firms in Asia face both formal and informal barriers, including uneven access to finance, lack of networks, under-use of mobile and other business-related technologies, and social factors. Launched at the September 2013 APEC meetings in Bali, the study follows the Foundation’s February 2013 report, commissioned by APEC, which explored factors limiting women’s entrepreneurship in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Read more about The Asia Foundation and its Women’s Empowerment Program. For media inquiries, please visit the Press Room.

The Asia Foundation in Mongolia: Improving Lives, Expanding Opportunities for Twenty Years (1993-2013)

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, October 7, 2013 — This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Asia Foundation in Mongolia. To celebrate, the Foundation will hold a series of events from October 7-11, 2013 to highlight its significant milestones and current programs in the country. Asia Foundation Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Suzanne E. Siskel will attend. Anniversary events include a roundtable discussion on the development of the women’s movement in Mongolia organized with the National Committee on Gender Equality; the first annual national seminar on fostering civic engagement at the subnational level co-hosted with the Office of the President of Mongolia; a plenary discussion on green development and smart consumption; a photography competition exhibition on “What does good governance and transparency look like?”; and a presentation on community mapping involving ger area residents.

The Asia Foundation was privileged to be one of the first international NGOs invited to Mongolia in 1990 and opened is first office in Ulaanbaatar on October 1, 1993. As Mongolia embarked on its historic double transition to democracy and a market-oriented economy, the Foundation provided early support at critical junctures in Mongolia’s recent history.

The Asia Foundation has taken a long-term and comprehensive approach to supporting Mongolia in its development – advising on the drafting of the Constitution in the early 1990s, the Election Law, NGO Law, Law on the Freedom of Media, amongst others; organizing study visits and exchange programs to provide exposure to new ideas and approaches in the U.S. and Asia; and offering technical and financial assistance for the pioneers of Mongolian civil society, in particular, women’s NGOs.

“As a partner to Mongolia, The Asia Foundation is proud of our contributions and to have worked on the most pressing issues facing the country,” said Mongolia Country Representative for The Asia Foundation Meloney C. Lindberg. Over the years, The Asia Foundation has deepened its relationships with government institutions and non-government organizations. The Foundation has supported Mongolia to improve governing institutions at the national and local levels and to establish conditions for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Read more about the 20th anniversary in brand-new Foundation publications, “Improving Lives, Creating Opportunities for 20 Years in Mongolia” (also available in Mongolian) and “Perspectives of 20 Mongolian Leaders” (also available in Mongolian).

Currently, The Asia Foundation’s main programs focus on strengthening good governance and promote transparency, improving urban service delivery, fostering civic engagement at subnational level, promoting environmental rehabilitation of artisanal mining, implementation of national anti-trafficking mechanisms, and promoting access to information. A key area where the Foundation made an impact has been its support for the rule of law through the provision direct technical advice on the drafting of the 1992 Constitution, the NGO Law, the Law on Free Media and the Domestic Violence Law and, more recently, its advocacy support for the adoption of the Law on Combatting Trafficking in Persons and the Law on Preventing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service.

Lindberg added: “The Asia Foundation is thankful of the support and cooperation of the various partners from government, civil society, academia, and the private sector that it has worked with over the last decades. We are also grateful to the many donors in the U.S., Europe, and Asia that have supported the Foundation’s programs in Mongolia.” In the years ahead, the Foundation remains committed to its work to improve lives, expand opportunities, and help societies flourish within a dynamic and developing Mongolia and across the region.

Read more about The Asia Foundation and its work in Mongolia.

Asia Foundation Celebrates STAEP Mega Mela and Citizens for Responsive Governance in Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan, October 4, 2013 — In early September, The Asia Foundation’s Pakistan office marked a two-day “Mega Mela” event in celebration of the Supporting Transparency, Accountability and Electoral Processes in Pakistan (STAEP) Program’s achievements in promoting citizen-led responsive governance in Pakistan. The nationwide program, operational since 2009, is a recognized pioneer in promoting democratic processes that are inclusive, open, efficient and accountable to Pakistani citizens. Through the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a consortium which now has over 40 Pakistani civil society organization, STAEP works to monitor public institutions and improve communications between elected representatives and their constituents. Its notable successes include empowering citizens to raise demands with elected representatives, Election Day monitoring throughout Pakistan by 40,000 trained volunteers, instituting necessary reforms with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and increasing female voter turnout by up to 70% in some constituencies.

As the program comes to a close in December 2013, the Mega Mela provided an opportunity to bring together partner organizations, ambassadors, public representatives, media, national and international technical experts, and ordinary citizens from 200 National Assembly constituencies across Pakistan to share in the project’s findings, successes and lessons learned. The Mega Mela was particularly timely in light of Pakistan’s historic 2013 General Elections that saw a legitimate and democratic transition of power for the first time in the country’s 66-year history. Though the threat of violence was pervasive, the high voter turn-out demonstrated Pakistani citizens’ resolve for positive change, and STAEP has played a pivotal role in consolidating democracy and creating space for more responsive governance.

Leading the plenary session, Gareth Aicken, Asia Foundation Country Representative in Pakistan, thanked the members of the audience in his opening remarks, and acknowledged the efforts of Pakistani citizens in making governance more responsive and accountable in Pakistan. He noted the establishment of FAFEN in 2006 as one of the Foundation’s key achievements, and praised STAEP’s important role in helping bridge the citizen-state gap. Suzanne E. Siskel, Asia Foundation’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, stated that effective, transparent and accountable governance is important in addressing the massive challenges facing Pakistan today, and applauded the high voter turnout in Pakistan during the past elections.

Syed Sher Afghan, Additional Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) appreciated STAEP’s contribution to the electoral reform process in Pakistan, and acknowledged the 2013 by-elections as one of the most free and fair in the history of the country. Looking forward, he proposed enhancement of electoral processes in Pakistan, including delimitation of constituencies and extension of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, hopeful that these initiatives will be in place in time for the next General Elections. FAFEN Chairman, Zahid Islam stressed the importance of citizens’ continuing and active role in helping democracy flourish while maintaining strong opposition to authoritative rule. He recognized the role of Citizens Relations Groups (CRGs) established under the STAEP program in facilitating greater government accountability through proactive citizen engagement with public officials.

Lubna Javaid, Team Manager, STAEP, highlighted the program’s key role in fostering state-citizen engagement, saying that change happens when citizens own the process. “When they own that this is their government and these are their governing institutions, then institutions discharge their responsibility better,” said Javaid. “Engaged citizens keep the process and institutions on track. The STAEP program has laid this foundation.” The plenary was followed by theatre play, thematic sessions, and sharing of program experiences by FAFEN representatives and members, as well as volunteers from across Pakistan. STAEP was lauded for effecting positive change in governance across Pakistan, in particular, for improved transparency of public institutions and electoral processes, devising legislative measures for ECP’s autonomy, establishing a unified electoral law, contributing towards election-related constitution and legislation, promoting citizen engagement with public institutions and focused efforts to enhance involvement of women in the electoral processes.

In his closing remarks, Marcel de Vink, Ambassador of the Netherlands spoke of democracy as a continuous process that needed to be built upon and consolidated over time, crediting the 2013 General Elections for providing the platform upon which further democracy-related initiatives can transpire. Suzanne E. Siskel closed the event with a vote of thanks and recognition of citizens for their generous contribution towards the project’s success. Acknowledgement certificates were distributed to all participating partners marking the official closing of the Mega Mela.

The Asia Foundation, a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia, has been implementing the STAEP program in Pakistan with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID/UKaid) and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Read more about The Asia Foundation and its work in Pakistan.

The Asia Foundation Announces New Trustee Ambassador Melanne Verveer

New Asia Foundation Trustee and Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, and Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, connect at a recent Asia Foundation meeting in Washington, DC.

Washington, DC, October 3, 2013 — The Asia Foundation announces the election of Ambassador Melanne Verveer to its Board of Trustees.

“The Foundation is very pleased to welcome Ambassador Verveer to our Board of Trustees,” said Asia Foundation President David D. Arnold. “We are impressed by Ambassador Verveer’s relentless commitment to the idea that the advancement of women is a central component of thriving societies. Her perseverance, enthusiasm, and a proven track record on promoting the rights of women and girls globally will undoubtedly strengthen the Foundation’s work on critical issues, including its Women’s Empowerment Program, across a dynamic and developing Asia.”

“I am honored to join the distinguished Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation, an organization I have long admired,” said Ambassador Verveer. “Two decades ago, recognizing that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its citizens behind, The Asia Foundation launched a dedicated program to unleash the potential of girls and women to be full participants in social, political, and economic life so that they and their societies can prosper. I welcome this opportunity to serve as a trustee of one of the world’s premier international development organizations and support its efforts to empower women and strengthen communities across Asia.”

Ambassador Verveer is Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She previously served as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, a position to which she was nominated by President Obama in 2009. In that role, she coordinated foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women, traveling to nearly sixty countries. She worked to ensure that women’s participation and rights are fully integrated into U.S. foreign policy, and she played a leadership role in the Administration’s development of the US National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. President Obama also appointed her to serve as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

From 2000-2008, Ambassador Verveer was the Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO that she co-founded to invest in emerging women leaders. During the Clinton administration, she served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. She also led the effort to establish the President’s Interagency Council on Women and was instrumental in the adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

Ambassador Verveer has a B.S. and M.S. from Georgetown University. In 2013, she was the Humanitas Visiting professor at Cambridge University. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Bank Advisory Council on Gender and Development. She holds several honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the US Secretary of State’s Award for Distinguished Service.

Read more about The Asia Foundation, its Board of Trustees, and its Women’s Empowerment Program. For media inquiries, please visit the Press Room.

Asia Foundation Presents: The Asian Century? America and Asia’s Rise

Asia on the RiseOn October 3, The Asia Foundation, in partnership with Asia Society and the BBC presented “The Asian Century? America and Asia’s Rise” at the Bechtel Conference Room in San Francisco. Speakers included Stanford’s Bruce Cain, Asia Society’s Orville Schell, Bay Area Council’s Jim Wunderman, chair of the Committee of 100 Dominic Ng, and moderated by BBC’s Ritula Shah.

Avoiding the ‘Legitimacy’ Cliff in Post-Election Cambodia

Cambodia is at a historical impasse. The July National Assembly elections resulted in a surprisingly strong showing from Cambodia’s emergent second political party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The CNRP won 44.46 percent of the popular vote compared to the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) with 48.83 percent.

Cambodians participate in election campaigning

Cambodia’s elections resulted in a surprisingly strong showing from Cambodia’s emergent second political party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Photo/Karl Grobl

After years of independent reviews of the election system and recommendations for major reform, few were surprised about the widespread allegations of irregularities at the polls. However, as a result of the swing in favor of CNRP, the election has raised widespread doubts over the legitimacy of CPP’s rule. CNRP stands by its claim that it won the elections, deserving just over half the seats in parliament, and enough for it to form a government. CPP has remained resolute that even if it admits there were irregularities in the election, it rejects proposals for an independent review. This then begs the question: what does the current standoff mean for stability in the country?

Since July, pressure has been mounting among the opposition supporters to contest the election results. The perceived mishandling of the investigation into alleged election irregularities has only fueled the opposition’s momentum for change. On Sunday, September 15, originally intended non-violent mass demonstrations led by CNRP ended in skirmishes between citizens and security forces amid blockaded streets. It resulted in one death and a number of injuries. The day before these events, the King announced the official results of the July national elections, reaffirming the CPP’s mandate to govern. But it did little to assuage widespread concerns among opposition supporters and many others that the election results were not sufficiently accurate and that the process of investigating complaints was not sufficiently transparent or independent.

Cambodia Elections

Campaign posters line the streets ahead of Cambodia’s elections. Photo/Karl Grobl

The day following the protests, the leaders of the CPP and CNRP met for five hours to negotiate a solution to the crisis. The resulting press conference and speeches outlined short-term points of agreement, chiefly that the security forces would remove the barricades and that CNRP disavows the use of violence. Within hours, the blockades were removed, the military police were withdrawn, and there was an air of jubilation among CNRP supporters. The two parties also agreed in principle to the reform of the National Election Commission (NEC) and to meet again, which they did for several hours next day. However, the results of the follow up meeting were less jubilant – media reports described a gulf between the two parties on key issues, such as reforming the NEC, and how deep and far those reforms should go.  A week later, CPP attended the opening of parliament in the absence of CNRP and formed a government alone. Pundits warn that Cambodia is dangerously close to being a one-party state. CNRP promises further demonstrations until their concerns are met.

As CPP seeks to reassert its hegemony, primarily through getting the gears of government going after two months in waiting, the likelihood of comprehensive electoral reform under a CPP controlled government is receding. This may not be to CPP’s benefit. Arguably, CPP will have less incentive to bring discipline to its party’s leadership, both at the national and provincial levels, as concerns about being popular at the ballot box appear less important. The CPP may soon find it difficult to create applicable, accurate, and alternative measures to gauge support. The question remains: if not elections, what will drive the much-needed reform in the country?  Without an easy answer, the country’s institutions, including the police, judiciary, and military, may find it increasingly difficult to contain the mounting societal pressure for change.

Cambodia is not the first country to navigate these dangerous waters – electoral reform has indeed occurred after widely-disputed election results in other countries, such as Mexico and Sierra Leone, for example. In order for CPP and CNRP to stem further escalation of the current crisis, the experiences from other countries suggest that the CPP needs to openly reject the results of the NEC. In return, CNRP would need to swallow the outcome of the elections and enter parliament. In order to broker this arrangement, CPP needs to take the first step in bringing the parties back to the negotiating table. Both parties need to then show commitment to keeping the inter-party machinery going, and to spell out a roadmap for electoral reform, which includes a thorough, independent investigation.

Time is of the essence. The government needs to avoid going over a “legitimacy” cliff; CNRP cannot hold out for choice seats in parliament or make peripheral demands, such as getting its own TV station. CNRP should be the first to recognize that media and NGO attention fades quickly and with it the possibility of sustaining reform through public pressure. Instead of focusing on party gains, now is the time for both parties to seek upfront guarantees that will make the business of governance capable of producing what people want.

Silas Everett is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Cambodia. He can be reached at severett@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

In Myanmar, an Evolving Discourse on Decentralization

With a much-heralded democratic transition underway in Myanmar, the future holds the potential for impressive gains but also significant challenges. Among the latter, decentralization and state-local relations as mandated by the 2008 constitution are emerging as a critical issue for both the country’s stability and long-term development. A history of highly centralized governance, subnational conflicts, and ongoing disputes over the constitution, however, mean that the implementation of decentralization in Myanmar is likely to be a contested and convoluted process.

Myanmar Market

With a much-heralded democratic transition underway in Myanmar, the future holds the potential for impressive gains but also significant challenges. Photo/Geoffrey Hiller

Exactly how the institutional arrangements are defined by the constitution and how they have actually been carried out on the ground are not well known, neither inside nor outside of government. For the past year, The Asia Foundation and the Centre for Social and Economic Development of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute have embarked on a research effort aimed to map the state of subnational government in Myanmar to contribute to the policy discussion on effective and responsive governance. The Foundation recently published these results in a new report, “State and Region Governments in Myanmar,” and is disseminating these findings and recommendations as widely as possible among government at national and local levels, development partners, and civil society organizations in Myanmar.

Under the 2008 constitution, 14 state and region governments were created that are equivalent in terms of structures and mandates. States refer to areas with large ethnic minority populations and are located along Myanmar’s borders, while regions encompass majority Burman areas. There are a total of seven states and seven regions in the country, and they form the basic building blocks of Myanmar’s subnational governance. State and region governments consist of a partially elected unicameral parliament known as a hluttaw, an executive led by a chief minister and cabinet of state/region ministers, and state/region judicial institutions. The hluttaw is composed of both elected members and appointed military representatives, equal to one quarter of the total. The chief minister is selected by the president from among elected or unelected hluttaw members, and confirmed by the hluttaw.

Our research team carried out field work in four states and two regions to obtain first-hand data that revealed both significant changes to the structures and functions of Myanmar’s subnational governance, as well as challenges to further decentralization. On the one hand, for the first time in the country’s history, there are functioning subnational governments that have direct legislative responsibilities. Decentralization has been a priority reform area for President Thein Sein’s government, which intends to use it to spur economic development, improve service delivery, and enable political reforms to support nascent peace processes with ethnic armed groups. The government’s guiding Framework for Economic and Social Reform emphasizes the development of laws and regulations related to decentralization, highlights the possibility of expanding state/region responsibilities, and underscores the need for a more “comprehensive” policy on decentralization. In hopes of energizing the reform process, in August the president announced five significant public administration reform initiatives to quicken decentralization, including increasing state/region influence over human resources and further de-concentrating central ministries.

Much will need to be done before substantial progress on decentralization can be realized. The political autonomy of these new governments is limited by a centralized appointment process. It is significant that chief ministers participate in the regional hluttaw, but they are accountable ultimately to the president, not to their assemblies. They can constitute their cabinets as they wish – involving elected members often, but not necessarily – and the cabinets’ ministers have little control over the administrative apparatus, limiting the effectiveness of the new governments. State and region budgets are as yet small, and prepared in a way that preserves central influence.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the nascent experience of decentralization is opening up new local political and institutional space that is already increasing the awareness and interest of diverse groups in considering what should constitute balanced state-local relations. The hluttaws present a real opportunity for representation of a wider range of political forces than was ever possible before, either nationally or locally. The strong participation of ethnic minority and regional parties in subnational government is an impressive achievement, but the interest in further decentralization is shared by local branches of national parties and local officials themselves.

Myanmar’s ongoing efforts to implement decentralization are profoundly important to the future peace and stability of the country. Many challenges remain, but the creation of new state and region governments has allowed for the emergence of a national discussion on what the shape of the country should be after decades of centralized authoritarianism. Increasingly, civil society organizations and the media openly discuss subnational governance issues, including debates over the meaning of federalism, long considered too sensitive a topic for discussion. Further decentralization reforms are needed to align the new political structures with appropriate administrative and fiscal arrangements which should be linked to the wider democratization, peace, and public administration reform processes.

Kim N. B. Ninh is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Myanmar and Matthew Arnold is an assistant director based in Bangkok. They can be reached at kninh@asiafound.org and matthew.arnold@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.

First-Ever Research Tool for Measuring Gender Equality in Environmental Governance

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Gender Office enjoys worldwide recognition for the extensive work it has carried out over the past 12 years addressing gender equality issues within the environmental sector. Since the 1990s, governments have established new international mandates ensuring that gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to environmental decision-making and sustainable development. However, the lack of a mechanism to monitor and measure government progress has contributed to little or no implementation of these mandates.

Erosion on river banks in Bangladesh

A woman stands on eroded river banks in southern Bangladesh. Environmental degradation and climate change are making it harder for women to secure depleting resources, such as food, water, and energy, in order to manage and provide for their family. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Strategic responses for environmental protection must recognize that women face unique threats related to their social status and environmental responsibilities. For example, in South and Southeast Asia, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that over 60 percent of the female work force is engaged in agriculture; although only 1 in 10 own the land they farm. In conflict, post-conflict, or natural disaster recovering societies, women often have to travel longer and longer distances to gather water or firewood, which contributes to their higher vulnerability to violence. Girls on average face greater pressure than boys to drop out of school before the secondary education level to help their mothers with the increasing burdens of household tasks as the scarcity of natural resources and non-renewable biomass fuels worsen. This extra time spent for women and girls in developing countries on growing food and preparing meals means they have less time available for engaging in educational or entrepreneurial activities.

The reality is that environmental degradation and climate change are impacting communities – and different groups within those communities – disproportionately, and many of the factors which shape such susceptibility are not strictly related to the dynamics of the natural world alone. These development challenges are making it harder for women to secure depleting resources, such as food, water, and energy, in order to manage and provide for their family, as well as compound the social inequities they experience that prevent them from becoming influential participants in their societies and the global green movement. This cycle of inequality undermines the social capital on which the least developed countries can draw to deal effectively with environmental protection and sustainable development initiatives. The empowerment of women is therefore paramount to minimizing these insecurities that women experience as a result of environmental degradation and the negative effects of climate change.

The upcoming launch of IUCN’s Environment and Gender Index (EGI) provides the first quantitative data on how 72 developed and developing nations are translating gender and environment mandates from the three Rio Conventions (UNFCCC, CBD, and UNCCD) and CEDAW into their national policy and planning. The hope is that the resulting information (to be made available to the public on November 19 at COP19 in Warsaw, Poland) will help policymakers, civil society, and practitioners evaluate progress and identify where the gaps lie in achieving gender equality in the environmental context.

This index will be particularly useful for development organizations like The Asia Foundation, which have cross-cutting programs in both women’s empowerment and environmental governance. The global environmental movement can serve as an important conduit to increase women’s access to land and health rights, as well as to technology, information, and leadership opportunities. Likewise, actively involving all societal groups in conservation and climate change work can make progress in preserving and protecting the natural environment more sustainable and reduce vulnerabilities specific to women. Having a solid understanding of the socio-economic and political dimensions of what causes both people and the planet to become vulnerable will aid in planning these effective strategies that can better empower gender equality in programs that combat environmental degradation and climate change.

Issues of control over natural resources, access to information and technology, and relative power in environmental decision-making play a role in determining the capacity of successful environmental stewardship. The absence of these rights and privileges is at the heart of barriers that prevent communities from productively engaging in or benefiting from environmental conservation and/or climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. It is not surprising then that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded in their most recent Summary for Policymakers that the most vulnerable populations to both problems are the world’s poorest people in the least-developed countries, of which 70 percent are women, or those involved in climate-sensitive subsistence farming or other agricultural industries, of which females make up larger shares of the workforce.

For the first-time, the IUCN’s new EGI will allow policymakers and practitioners to better evaluate the depth of correlation between these socio-economic and political indicators in terms of women’s access to natural resources, and measure progress of policy implementation over time.

To receive a copy of the EGI once it is released, visit environmentgenderindex.org/contact.

Editor’s note: We are pleased to announce that the author, Kourtnii Brown, program officer for Environment Programs, is involved in an initiative on behalf of The Asia Foundation that has been nominated for the prestigious Katerva Award.  Brown serves on the Expert Panel of the Environment and Gender Index (EGI), which monitors gender equality and women’s empowerment in the environmental arena and is a project of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  The Katerva Award has been called “the Nobel of sustainability” by the Reuters Foundation, and with this nomination recognizes the EGI as a new innovation that will accelerate the future of sustainability. Please join us in congratulating Ms. Brown and the EGI’s efforts to simultaneously advance environmental efforts and gender equality.

Brown can be reached at kbrown@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Photo Blog: Relief Efforts in Zamboanga City

The ongoing conflict in Zamboanga City, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, which started on Sept. 9, 2013, has displaced 110,687 people, damaged more than 10,000 homes, and left more than 200 dead, among them soldiers, rebels, and civilians. Now, thousands of families are taking temporary shelter at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Stadium. Unseen but deeply felt is the damage wrought by the conflict on relationships between the Muslim and Christian population of the city. The Asia Foundation, through its USAID-supported “Transforming Conflicts in Sulu and Basilan through People to People Engagement” (P2P) project, is helping to respond to the immediate needs of the displaced in coordination with its partner the Interfaith Council of Leaders-Zamboanga. The Asia Foundation is also providing its own additional resources to the Tzu Chi Foundation of Zamboanga and the Crisis Management Committee of the Darul Ifta to conduct relief operations and provide basic services and goods. Eric Aseo from The Asia Foundation recently photographed the relief work underway at the stadium.

Zamboanga Stadium

Thousands of local residents displaced by conflict between rebels and soldiers seek temporary refuge in the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Stadium in Zamboanga City.

Given how quickly thousands arrived at the stadium in search of shelter, basic needs are severe, including drinking water. Above, children line up buckets and containers to collect water.

Zamboanga Stadium

Families set up temporary tents in an attempt to keep dry from the heavy monsoon rains.

The Asia Foundation is helping to mobilize interfaith volunteers to help attend to not only the immediate needs of the displaced, but also to provide a space for religious gatherings, such as this interfaith service above.

Zamboanga stadium

Religious leaders conduct interfaith prayers at the stadium. Photo/Alih Ayub IFCL

Zamboanga stadium

Residents of the stadium collect water.

A designated prayer room has been set up under a temporary tent.

Zamboanga stadium

Young boys pass the time as rain floods the shelters.