Queen Máxima spoke at the first ASEAN Women’s Leaders’ Summit about the role women will play in rebuilding the community in a post-COVID world.
ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is made up of ten member states: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Lao, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Together, the Association works on behalf of its countries in matters of economic, political and other intersecting areas.
Speaking to delegates in her role as the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, Queen Máxima joined the summit via video link to the conference in Vietnam.
Speaking about the effects of the economic impact of the pandemic, Queen Máxima said, “Women are bearing the brunt of the economic shocks emanating from the COVID-19 crisis. Early data suggest that women are twice as likely to lose their jobs as a result. Meanwhile, female-led SMES are six per cent more likely to close compared to their male counterparts.
“Additionally, women comprise the majority of the informal sector in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Informal firms tend to be smaller, with limited savings and capital buffers, and are thus less equipped to deal with economic contraction.”
“Overall, the crisis has put a spotlight on the existing gender inequalities and need for women’s economic participation. It has made the call for a gender deliberate response much more urgent,” the Queen added.
She continued, “Governments across the region are using digital payments as a critical tool to support crisis response, particularly in the disbursement of social assistance. In most ASEAN countries where less than 50% of the population owns an account at a formal financial institution, these digital payments provide a very important entry point into the formal financial system.
“Yet, apart from merely providing emergency payments through accounts, this provides the opportunity to access a range of other value-adding financial services. These include savings, insurance, responsible credit, among others, that can provide and improve socio-economic well-being. Savings products are particularly important for women, allowing them to invest in their families and to weather financial shocks.”
Queen Máxima also praised ASEAN countries for their leadership in “developing and using digital and financial technology to help small businesses manage ongoing economic downturn,” but highlighted how preliminary studies show that “women are over-represented in informal online commerce in key markets in Asia.”
She added, “A robust ecosystem of digital financial services, along with user-friendly platforms, can help women entrepreneurs better participate in and benefit from these new digital marketplaces. Public support programs could include specific measures to ensure women-led businesses have the networks and capability to take advantage of digital opportunities.
“This could be a powerful use case for digital financial services among women.
Queen Máxima emphasised five ways that ASEAN members can include digital financial services as a way to recover following the pandemic, including creating and supporting these frameworks, improving the digital infrastructure, and ensuring that women are not denied from participating within these areas.
“As the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, I look forward to deepening my engagement with ASEAN member states. My partners and I stand ready to provide support to advance needed reforms, in addition to sharing and exchanging international best practices. Thank you very much, and I wish you all success.”