Jakarta, 30 June 2004

Her Royal Highness,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

       On behalf of ASEAN member countries, we have just signed the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region. I wish to acknowledge the presence in our midst of representatives of 29 women NGOs, witnessing this signing ceremony. Signing this declaration, with the firm purpose of strictly adhering to its letter and spirit is, the least we can do for the women of our region. For violence against women has absolutely no place in the culture of ASEAN.

       Moreover, there is a further message that we wish to put across by signing this declaration: that ASEAN is fully and zealously committed to the eradication not just of violence but also of all forms of discrimination against women in our region.

       Although sometimes it is not apparent, women do have an important and highly respected place in Southeast Asian societies. In our home or in our communities, they have always served as the guardians and promoters of the principles, values and ideals that have kept our societies cohesive and strong.
And today, especially in the urbanized parts of our region, women in increasing numbers are occupying leadership positions—in government, in civil society, in professional circles, and wherever a wise and reliable leadership is called for.

       Nevertheless it is true that in our region, as in most other places in the world, women have a long way to go before it can be said that they stand fully equal to men in terms of opportunities, especially opportunities for the realization of their potential.

       In many instances, especially in rural societies, the contributions of women to the family, to the economy and to the general welfare of the community continue to be at best unacknowledged and at worst denied either by default or design.

       And, to be candid, there are still a good number of women who live under constant fear of violence from even within their own families. The most unfortunate are those who seek refuge from poverty by working in another country only to suffer violence from the hands of foreign employers.

       We must not, and cannot, tolerate this. If we allowed women, who constitute about 50 percent of our population, to languish under the threat of violence and to suffer the traditional deprivations of women, we would be slashing in half our capacity for social and economic progress.

       Every investment in the empowerment and protection of women is therefore an investment in the future of our societies. Today, by signing this declaration, we have made a small investment that will pay great dividends in the future.

       And by signing this declaration, we reiterate our commitment to the outcomes of all relevant UN Conferences, including our commitment to the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goal on gender equality and to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

       That commitment is part and parcel of all our efforts at social and economic development. It is also part and parcel of our striving to become a community of caring societies.

       Indeed, an ASEAN Community would rely much on the contributions of our women.

Thank you.