Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai on Empowering Female Leaders Across ASEAN

Good evening, everyone.  Thank you, Maureen, for that kind introduction and for putting together this important event.  I also want to thank Ambassador Mirpuri for hosting tonight’s event at the Embassy.
Singapore is one of our most important trading partners not just in the Indo-Pacific region, but in the world. 
I visited Singapore for the first time two weeks ago.  During my two days there, I met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, my Singapore trade counterpart, Minister Gan, and had a number of productive ministerial-level meetings, including with Environment and Sustainability Minister Grace Fu.
It is fitting that we gather at the Singaporean Embassy to discuss the importance of empowering women in ASEAN Member States and lifting up female leaders in the region.  Singapore has made noticeable progress in narrowing the gender gap and ushering in an era of greater empowerment and equality for women: 

  • During its 2020 elections, a record number of female candidates ran for office. 
  • As a result, today nearly 30 percent of the seats in Singapore’s Parliament are represented by women, compared to 20 percent of parliamentary seats across ASEAN Member States and 27 percent of seats in the United States Congress.
  • Women are taking on more leadership roles in Singapore, as evidenced by Minister Fu leading the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment and Minister Teo leading the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Still, we all know there is more work to do for us and for the ASEAN countries.  In February, ASEAN and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women published the “ASEAN Gender Outlook.”  The report offers a look at the progress ASEAN Member States have made towards gender equality, the region’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.
Last October’s Joint Statement of the Fourth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Women emphasized that: “Women fulfil key roles in building and sustaining resilience, and…women, both in rural and urban settings, are not merely victims who are affected by the pandemic, disasters and changes in the climate: they are active agents for transformative change.”
Indeed, we must activate women across ASEAN to bring about that transformative change.  While we are seeing signs of progress – greater political representation, increased access to education – there is still a wide gap between our ambitions and reality.
That is why this gathering is so important.  It represents a commitment by all of us towards lifting up women and emerging leaders across the region. 
Last year, I traveled to Seoul and joined a roundtable hosted by Ambassador Yoo, the first woman to hold the position of Minister for Trade in the Republic of Korea.  Our discussion featured an impressive group of women leaders in trade policy from the public and private sectors.
Together, we had a candid conversation about our shared experiences, the challenges we have encountered throughout our careers, and how we can be mentors to the next generation of leaders.  From that discussion, our Embassy in Seoul launched a new program to connect rising women leaders with mentors in their respective field.
These platforms and networks give us the space to forge genuine connections between the generations.  A woman just starting her career can benefit immensely by hearing the advice and wisdom of a peer with decades of experience.  I know this from firsthand experience: throughout my career, I have had outstanding mentors and people who helped me professionally.  In turn, I love giving advice and serving as a sounding board for women, particularly AANHPI women. 
The Biden-Harris Administration believes that trade can be an important tool to advance our gender equity goals.  It is why USTR’s trade agenda incorporates the values and objectives of the President’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality.  We are proud to support ASEAN Member States that continue to push ahead to fulfill their SDGs and empower women to create that transformative change.
If we can accomplish that, the possibilities are truly endless.  ASEAN is collectively our fourth-largest trading partner and the region has a combined GDP of over $3.3 trillion.  Imagine what the possibilities for our trading relationship can be if women in the region have more representation and more economic opportunities. 
In short, it is in all of our interests for women across ASEAN to succeed and thrive. 
That is why we hosted an ASEAN-U.S. Best Practices Exchange on Women-owned Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized enterprises and E-Commerce in March to share ideas on how our trade agenda can help women-owned businesses benefit from the evolving digital economy.
It is why USTR organized a second ASEAN-U.S. Trade and Labor Dialogue to ensure that workers – including women workers – are included in the policymaking process.  By giving them a seat at the table, we can ensure the policy outcomes are more inclusive, more durable, and more equitable.
Our commitment to this issue is clear.  And we look forward to working with ASEAN and stakeholders, including all of you, to identify the next generation of great female trade leaders and entrepreneurs and advance sustainable economic growth.
With that, I will turn things over to Wendy as we explore these topics in greater detail.  Thank you.