Leaders from Southeast Asia are meeting in Manila in November 2017 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN leaders will have the chance to reflect on the region's economic development plan - central to the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community - and consider its impact on peoples across the region. They have an opportunity to redefine the idea of regional economic cooperation as less about trade, investment, and liberalization, and more about creating a regional economy where women enjoy the same economic rights and opportunities as men, where everyone-not only the rich-gains from economic progress, and where economic growth is not achieved at the expense of the environment.
Like many regional blocs, ASEAN aspires to be an economic powerhouse by becoming a vital link in the glob al supply chain. In line with this, ASEAN began implementing a host of policies as early as the 1990s to facilitate trade and to attract foreign direct investments (FDI) into the region, with some success. ASEAN trade with the world rose from USD 1.61 trillion in 2007 to USD 2.53 trillion in 2014.1 FDI flows to the region increased from USD 10 8.1 billion in 2010 to USD 1 29.9 billion in 2014.
Although these high rates have since dropped, what remains is the impact of this economic model on women and marginalised groups living in the region. Unregulated private sector investment affects women, peoples' access and right to land, and the climate and the environment. Without safeguards, private sector investments tend to perpetuate gender wage gaps and lead to disinvestment in public services, which increases women's unpaid care work burden . This, in turn, limits women's life choices and exacerbates gender inequality. Unregulated investments chip away at communities' access to land, and the drive for increased economic output uses up natural resources. Investment s affect segments of society differently; it is marginalised groups living in precarious contexts that are the worst affected. Inequality is no longer just about disparities in income and wealth. It also pertains to the very lack of economic opportunities and the inability of marginalised people to influence and participate in decisions affecting them.
This policy brief summarises the impact of the ASEAN's economic model on gender inequality, land rights, and climate; and offers recommendations for ASEAN to help it eradicate poverty and inequality, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and with other human rights agreements.