On July 12-13, the U.S. Government and the Royal Government of Cambodia convened the first-ever Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue as part of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the LMI with the foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in 2009 to enhance cooperation among the countries in the areas of environment, health, education, and infrastructure development. Burma formally joined the initiative in July 2012.
More than 150 representatives of government and civil society from the five countries as well as Australia, Japan and New Zealand gathered in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to find ways to ensure that women are fully integrated both as change agents and beneficiaries in the development activities of the LMI. Discussion topics included expanding women’s political and economic participation, combatting gender-based violence, including human trafficking, forging public-private partnerships, promoting women’s education and health, and engaging women as environmental leaders. Secretary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, and Cambodian Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi all participated in the conference.
The United States announced the following new commitments to advance the status of women in the region:
Strengthening Networks of Women Leaders in the Lower Mekong Region.
The United States is committed to working with the people of the Lower Mekong Region to increase the number of women serving as leaders in their communities and countries. An essential objective is the creation of broad, sustainable regional networks of women leaders who can advise, promote, and support each other in their work. The United States has committed resources for several follow-on activities after the policy dialogue.
Cambodia Women's Leadership Network. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will launch a new initiative to strengthen women’s leadership in Cambodia. This initiative will establish issue-based dialogues between female civil society leaders and female elected officials on developing policy solutions to critical challenges. The initiative will also provide training to women leaders to strengthen their leadership skills and empower them to become policy advocates. This activity will seek to build upon and strengthen the Women’s Leadership Caucus in Cambodia to enable cross-party dialogue. The initiative will also support exchanges between Cambodian women and other leaders in the Mekong region to share best practices and strengthen regional networks.
Lower Mekong Women’s Network. USAID will provide support to activities that build on the efforts and relationships established during the Women’s Policy Dialogue. USAID will support the meaningful involvement of women leaders in future events and discussions on critical Lower Mekong issues that are often linked to conflict, such as natural resources management. USAID will take the lead from participants at the Dialogue on which issues emerge as the highest priorities, and will work to connect women to regional policy dialogues and regional decision making bodies to address those issues.
Women, Peace, and Security Fellows. The U.S. government has taken significant steps to empower women in preventing conflict and building peace in countries affected by war, violence, and insecurity. We believe achieving this goal is critical to our national security, and global security. As part of this effort, the Department of Defense is hosting Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Fellows at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii. Participants from the Lower Mekong region will participate as WPS fellows in the Advanced Security Cooperation course, which starts in September. Through a combination of lectures, seminars, electives and case studies, the WPS Fellows develop capacities and build networks with other security practitioners from the region in an effort to advance women's inclusion in peace negotiations, peace building activities, and conflict prevention; protect women from sexual and gender-based violence; and ensure equal access to relief and recovery, in areas of conflict and insecurity.
Investing in Women Scientists and Engineers
As in many other regions around the world, women in LMI countries are traditionally underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. Increasing the numbers of women in these fields is essential to improving both status of women and the pool of talent engaged in these fields.
Scholarships for Vietnamese Women Engineers. USAID, in partnership with Intel Corporation and Arizona State University, through the Higher Education Engineering Alliance has invested over $10 million to develop a work-ready workforce. Part of this investment includes scholarships for 75 Vietnamese students, of whom 26 are women, to study abroad in the United States. In addition, the partnership has awarded 20 women scholarships for vocational training in engineering in Vietnam, and USAID is working to encourage women to apply for the additional 80 scholarships slated to be awarded in Vietnam this year.
Exchanges for Female Scientists from LMI. USAID will support opportunities for female scientists in Lower Mekong countries to collaborate with U.S. scientists. Under the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program, which is designed to enhance international research collaborations and build science capacity, developing country scientists can apply for funds to support research and capacity-building activities. Funding will be provided for three or four female scientists to undertake research on reducing threats to biodiversity and improving management of vulnerable species and high biodiversity ecosystems.
Facilitating Technical Exchange among LMI Partner countries to Improve Women’s Health Women’s Health Leadership in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). USAID is supporting a technical exchange between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic to strengthen the Division of the Promotion of Women's Advancement within the Lao Ministry of Public Health. This exchange will enhance the focus on gender in health policies and institutional structures, within the greater vision of improving health outcomes for men, women, girls, and boys.
Public -Private Partnership for Women and Girls
Small grants to benefit women and girls in Burma. The Abbott Fund, the foundation of the global health care company, Abbott, and the State Department will work together to expand opportunities for women and girls in Burma. Abbott will provide $1 million to fund small grants to non-governmental organizations working to advance women and girls' health, education, safety and economic empowerment. Such grants will enable NGOS to continue, expand, or scale efforts that benefit women. The US Embassy will work to identify eligible NGOs and worthy projects.
MTV-Exit. In late 2012 USAID and AusAID plan to launch the fourth phase of MTV-Exit’s public awareness campaign on Trafficking in Persons in Southeast Asia. MTV-Exit seeks to educate young people about the dangers of being defrauded or coerced into forced labor, servitude, or sexual exploitation. Events are held in areas where people are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.