Addressing Asia’s Gender Gap

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

November 18, 2020

Often overheard during conversations, OECD now confirms that most countries in Asia are generally overridden with gender discrimination towards women. Barring Australia and New Zealand, other Asian countries have been found to have anywhere between low to very high levels of discrimination towards women.

It is astonishing to see developing Asian economies such as Laos’ score 26 percent in terms of the level of discrimination towards women as against 27 percent in Singapore, 34 percent in India, 35 percent in Thailand, and 42 percent in Indonesia.

And it is a well-known fact that Laos’ GDP is less than 5 percent of the GDP of each of these countries. So, the fact that a developed economy is expected to have a much better socio-economic policy and governance in place to realize women diversity – has sadly failed. 

Every individual must be accorded equal rights to education, work and wages. The male population must not receive preferential treatment and women must be considered as equal contributors to socio-economic progress.

Asia’s gender gap has further widened amid the pandemic and it is imperative that such trends are contained. Horasis recognizes that reducing this gap must be prioritized and is therefore organizing the Horasis Asia Meeting on 30 November 2020 to deliberate on critical matters such as these with the best minds from different walks of life.

Age Old Societal Barriers Still Prevail

There have been advances made in terms of women empowerment, but much work still remains in Asia. Certain Asian societies still consider the birth of a girl child as less equal. They are extended less education opportunities and are tasked with household work. Once they attain legal age, a hurried marriage is not uncommon.

Equal access to education is paramount to enabling women to compete on a level playing field with men. In a positive turn of events, mindsets have been changing but this is generally the case in households with higher incomes. In rural families, the girl child is often only enrolled in school for the initial few years. There must be efforts to ensure continuity in education and especially in training for a vocational course or developing a skill. Only in doing so will women be ensured a better shot at opportunity while also narrowing the gender gap. 

The Gender Bias is Deeply Ingrained

The pandemic has once again raised questions on the constraints women face, in comparison to men. When working from home, women spend more time in doing unpaid work than men. The expectation that women need to take care of their children and manage the household puts an additional strain on working mothers. Many are unable to manage both career and home and as a result, it is generally women who choose to forego their career so as to better care for their families.

It is time for mindsets to evolve and for men to assume greater responsibility in roles that have typically been looked upon as a woman’s domain. Governments and businesses need to act as facilitators towards this change. On a more fundamental level, each individual must take it upon themselves to usher in lasting changes to ensure complete gender gap elimination.

The Gender Gap Must First Be Acknowledged

The OECD in its SIGI 2019 Global Report has put forth recommendations in overcoming these challenges. First, it advises governments to start with transforming their national legal frameworks in support of women empowerment by seeking a balance between customary local traditions and gender inclusion policies. And second, to realize this transformation by implementing a ‘whole-of-society approach’ ensuring all citizen and institutions have an equivocal role to play. Furthermore, supporting women’s rights movements – which have in recent times become an important agenda. Lastly, it is also imperative that a regular follow-up is done to keep a check on the progress of such initiatives; holding decision makers accountable for their actions in reducing the gender gap.

Acknowledging that such wide gaps exist is the first step towards countering them. Asian countries such as Singapore, China, and South Korea have taken effective measures in ensuring women empowerment – be it in business, government, or civil society. In a 2018 conference, Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth,  encouraged the participation of more women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A 2018 report by McKinsey estimates that advancing gender equality can add $4.5 trillion to Asia-Pacific’s collective annual GDP in 2025.

Gender sensitivity trainings have been incorporated into workplace agendas. It is only fitting that such initiatives also find their way to grade school curriculum. The idea towards a more gender inclusive future must be instilled in young minds during their formative years. It will foster building of mutual respect and enable the shaping of more positives attitudes towards women. Higher women representation in corporate leadership and in governance will ensure more favorable policy making that will, in turn, lead to greater strides made in closing the gender gap.

Featured Photo Caption: Advancing gender equality can add $4.5 trillion to Asia-Pacific’s annual GDP by 2025