Mrs Laura Hwang at ASEAN Forum on Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment

Building resilience and harnessing innovation to support women’s economic empowerment

The following speech is from Singapore Government Representative for Women’s Rights on the ACWC, Mrs Laura Hwang’s opening address at the ASEAN Forum on Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment on 27 Aug 2018. The Forum is co-organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, under the ambit of the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

I am happy to see many familiar faces. It is my honour to welcome all of you in the presence of Singapore’s first female President, Madam Halimah Yacob.

ASEAN’s Commitment

A key principle in the ASEAN Charter our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. To articulate this, ASEAN has two bodies: the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights – AICHR, and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children – the ACWC.

These two bodies work closely to promote and protect the rights of the people of ASEAN, especially its women and children, whom we see as more vulnerable and needing more protection. Singapore’s contribution to this has included the joint organisation between AICHR and ACWC last year of a Workshop on the rights of children and the Forum today on the economic empowerment of women.

This Forum aims to bring together prominent women business leaders, young female entrepreneurs, and change-makers to share their experiences, discuss ways to empower more women in ASEAN and to inspire governments.

Building Resilience and Harnessing Innovation

ASEAN is a region of opportunity for its people. To ensure that we provide an enabling environment for all, ASEAN must collectively work towards sustainable change, and prepare us for a new future of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – the VUCA macro-economy which is rapidly taking over the globe.

Hence, this Forum which focuses on women’s economic empowerment is themed “Building Resilience and Harnessing Innovation”. It is opportune to discuss what we need to do to support the economic participation of women. Supporting women to fulfil their aspirations, both in family and career, can undoubtedly bring about progress not just economically, but as a society – to be more equitable and resilient.

Building Resilience

Building resilience is a shared responsibility of multiple parties including governments, the private sector, and importantly the individual. We need to use the talents and abilities of all, and many studies show very clearly that inclusion and diversity are important for greater outcomes.

Society, businesses and governments need to not only advocate that women’s economic participation brings tremendous benefits, but to cascade this down into actions that enable a culture of inclusion and diversity.

The global competition for talent is fierce, and ASEAN needs to ensure that we retain and attract the best. Practices that prevent talent from being part of nation building will only slow down our development.

Harnessing Innovation

We don’t need a crystal ball to look at the future and to see the paramount importance of technology. To effectively harness innovation, we must be able to generate innovative ideas, to keep pace and reap the benefits from new ways of doing business. We now shop, find information, organise and pay across digital platforms. It is critical to promote STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education for girls, as these are the relevant skills in the job markets of today and tomorrow.

With the rise of disruption and globalisation, many traditional jobs held by women are under threat by automation, AI and other technologies. Currently, women remain underrepresented in high growth sectors such as computer science, engineering and management. In Session 1, Empowering female employees at the workplace, we will hear solutions and ideas from speakers from socio-government, entrepreneurial and unionist sectors.

And we are seeing success by innovative women – for example, In Thailand, after noticing a high rate of road accidents due to drink driving, 2 young women started an app for inebriated partygoers to book a chauffeur service for a safe ride home. They have facilitated more than 100,000 rides in the past 4 years – you could say they avoided 100,000 possible accidents!

You will be hearing how one of our young woman leaders is bringing affordable insurance and mobile health services for low-income families, using mobile technology. And there are many examples in other ASEAN Member States too.


By 2030, which I hope all of us here will be around to see! ASEAN has the potential to be the world’s 4th largest economy. As we progress further along the road to being an economic community through the ASEAN Economic Community, we know that half the citizens of ASEAN are women. Their input and their efforts are critical in the successful development of ASEAN.

I look forward to hearing and learning from our speakers and moderators, and from the very distinguished floor. I thank them in advance for how they will be sharing their unique views and expertise and inspiring us.

My special thanks to our President, for gracing the occasion and being the greatest example to us all of women’s leadership. Having had the privilege of working with her during her term as Minister of State in the Ministry of Social and Family Development, her support for women’s empowerment is genuine and heartfelt. President Halimah, you are an inspiration for us all.

Thank you.  Have a wonderful forum.