Class of 2016 gets first go at ASEAN lawmakers’ forum
TOPICS ranged from the Zika virus and climate change to women’s empowerment and Myanmar’s own Rakhine State problems as lawmakers from throughout the ASEAN region met over the weekend for the 37th General Assembly of the ASEAN InterParliamentary Assembly (AIPA) in Nay Pyi Taw.
An agreement from the bloc’s female parliamentarians to better promote women’s rights was one take-away from the three-day gathering, according to a Myanmar MP in attendance.
Members of the Committee on Women Parliamentarians agreed to urge their respective legislatures to enact laws and policies that will fortify women’s rights in the workplace and further social protections for them.
“For social protection laws or policies that can promote gender equality, we were able to agree that women lawmakers in the ASEAN region are going to urge their parliaments to revise labour laws in line with international norms,” Amyotha Hluttaw lawmaker Daw Shwe Shwe Sein Latt (NLD; Bago 3), who is the leader of Myanmar’s delegation to the Committee on Women Parliamentarians, told The Myanmar Times at a press conference following the conclusion of the assembly on October 2.
She said female lawmakers would work in their countries’ parliaments to develop practical programs, such as allowing working mothers to breastfeed their babies in the workplace, and bringing maternity leave policies in line with international standards.
“We came to a decision that MPs will urge [colleagues] to enact more social protections and maternity leave for woman workers, especially women who lack opportunities,” said Daw Shwe Shwe Sein Latt.
Arguably the region’s most familiar female face, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, opened the AIPA with a speech on September 30.
She outlined her government’s priorities at the six-month mark of her administration’s term, highlighting its signature peace initiative – the 21st-century Panglong Conference – and a revitalised approach to dealing with ethno-religious divisions in Rakhine State.
“The situation in Rakhine is complex and it is the subject of close attention and concern outside our borders in the ASEAN region and beyond,” she said, noting the creation of two separate bodies, including an advisory commission chaired by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, to address the state’s problems.
“We are working to build understanding, harmony and trust between communities, while standing firm against prejudice, intolerance and extremism,” she said.
“In doing so, we ask for the constructive support of our regional neighbours. Progress in every field will not be possible overnight, but we are determined to persevere, and to bring about positive change in Rakhine State, as in other areas of our country affected by conflict.”
Broadening the lens to issues on the AIPA agenda – cyber security, protecting marine resources, mitigating the effects of climate change, supporting small and medium enterprises and Zika virus prevention – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the wide-ranging nature of the docket reflected the importance of regional cooperation.
“All these are issues that affect our citizens directly, and where we have a duty to work together, in a spirit of democratic collaboration, to find effective and progressive solutions,” she said.
This year’s general assembly was the first since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won an overwhelming majority in last November’s election, claiming nearly 80 percent of elected seats in the Union legislature. With the NLD boycotting the 2010 general election, parliament this year is considered a more accurate reflection of the constituencies it represents, but the class of 2016 is also largely without legislative experience.
Isra Sunthornvut, the Thai secretary general of the AIPA, told The Myanmar Times that he nonetheless had “full trust” in the policymaking abilities of the current crop of MPs.
The general assembly concluded on October 2 with a handover ceremony as Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than passed the gavel to the deputy speaker of the Philippines’ lower house, Eric Singson.
The 38th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly will be held next year in the Philippines. Malaysia hosted the previous iteration in 2015.