4th Annual Women Leaders of New Asia Summit

4th Annual Women Leaders of New Asia Summit

Attendees at Asia Society's fourth annual "Women Leaders of New Asia" summit in New Delhi, April 2013. (Asia Society India Centre)

NEW DELHI, April 15, 2013 — With important elections pending in key Asian countries and in the wake of a number of highly publicized acts of violence against women in the Asia-Pacific region, Asia Society convened its 4th Annual Women Leaders of New Asia (WLNA) summit. Over 35 distinguished delegates from 14 different countries across the region and disciplines gathered to identify critical issues affecting women and to develop an action plan to address these concerns in a collaborative manner.

Over the course of two days’ of deliberations, the participants repeatedly underscored why it is imperative to invest more in efforts to change social attitudes and mindsets and how they might go about doing so. Other key components identified that would be crucial in this endeavour include providing opportunities for proper trainings and mentorships; advocating for the private sector to incorporate gender issues into their strategic planning; sharing their success stories; preventing career pipeline leakages; and exchanging best practices from across the region. Astrid Tuminez, Regional Director, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft Southeast Asia, and author of last year’s WLNA report Rising to the Top? A Report on Women’s Leadership in Asia will also be releasing a follow-up later this year on the role of men in mentoring and empowering women.

As President Emerita of Asia Society and Special Advisor for Global Affairs at Columbia University Dr. Vishakha N. Desai, said, “It’s not just about women having a seat at the table — it’s changing the shape of the table.” Delegates agreed to take forward a number of concrete activities towards this, including setting up a regional chapter of WLNA in Pakistan to take forward the women’s agenda there, starting a mentorship programme for women across ages and regions (in collaboration with the Asia Society’s Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative), and rolling out a campaign that leverages the extensive corporate, government and social sector networks of the delegates to shape mindsets for gender parity.

The summit was launched with a public program featuring: Dr. Desai; Governor of Rajasthan Margaret Alva; Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace and Security Melanne Verveer; Bangladesh Minister of Women and Children Affairs Shirin Chaudhary; and Singapore Member of Parliament Penny Low, who suggested that we need to develop a global shapers community that cuts across regions, disciplines and ages, to keep women linked and working towards a progressing path. Further, she said that we need to find the “killer app” to implement inclusive policy.

While the participants felt that the moment is ripe for pushing the agenda for women’s empowerment and gender equity, they were mindful that changes will come in increments. They also acknowledged that change will only be possible when the policy changes go hand in hand with changes in social attitudes. Desai said that “There is a mismatch between policy and social norms — to change an attitude takes not only courage but generations. It is easier to change infrastructure than mindset or culture. It is a work in progress, we have to be relentless.”

Click here for the list of participants.

April 16, 2013
by Komal Hiranandani