From left: Margaret Alva, governor, state of Uttarakhand, India; Vishakha N. Desai, president, Asia Society, USA; SingTel's group CEO, Chua Sock Koong.
Women are seeking a world beyond pink laptops. They want a larger role to play in shaping the world through technology and leadership opportunities. They want a significant representation at the high table in government, civil society groups and corporations.
These were the impression I came back with after attending the opening night of 'Women leaders of New Asia'. The summit was held in Singapore by Asia Society, USA, between 31 March and 2 April.
This was the second annual Asia Pacific & Japan summit celebrating the region's female leadership. Fittingly, the keynote speaker at the inaugural was Chua Sock Koong, group chief executive, SingTel.
About 140 top women in government, corporations and NGOs from more than 23 countries participated in the summit. Apart from holding discussions around themes of gender, leadership and technology, two more important announcements were made at the conference:
- Asia Society and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore are launching a pioneering Women's Asian Power Index (WAPI) to measure and compare the impact of female leadership country-by-country.
- Asia Society and the global healthcare leader Merck will also announce a new "Asia's Report Card" programme to promote women's health across the world's most populous region.
More women at the high table
The opening keynote conversation had two speakers: Margaret Alva, governor, state of Uttarakhand, India, and SingTel's group CEO, Chua Sock Koong. The discussion was moderated by Vishakha N. Desai, president, Asia Society, USA.
The premise of the discussion was clarified at the outset: Asia is a diverse society and challenges that women face differ from country to country within this vast continent. For example, the challenges faced by Japanese women are different from those of their Indian counterparts.
Alva, a seasoned Indian politician, talked about her own struggles as a women politician in a field dominated by men. She also talked about the changes brought about in the Indian society by inclusion of women at the grassroots-level governance bodies, and how this inclusion has contributed to the spectacular growth of the country.
Speaking of Singapore, Chua acknowledged that things had changed for women in Singapore too. Women constitute half of the workforce in the country, and that is a good sign for Singapore's women, she said.
She talked of her own struggles as a woman executive and how she had to juggle between her role as a wife and mother and as an executive in a demanding job that included frequent travelling out of the country.
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