Asian countries have a window of opportunity to tackle gender inequality in their labour markets and support sustainable crisis recovery, according to a new report published recently by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The report, Women and Labour Markets in Asia: Rebalancing for Gender Equality, says that although Asia is helping to lead the global economy, labour market recovery from the recent economic and financial crisis has not kept pace. In some developing countries, particularly in East Asia, job growth is back, but jobs quality being created is a major concern. In particular, 45% of Asian women’s vast productive potential remains untapped, compared to just 19 % for Asian men.
Even before the crisis, Asia was estimated to be losing $42-$47 billion a year because of limits on women’s employment opportunities’ access and another $16-$30 billion yearly as a result of gender gaps in education, according to estimates by UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Although the region’s 6.2% economic growth in 2000-2007 exceeded the 4.2% global average, average women’s employment growth was just 1.7 % – below the 2% world average.
These deficits are likely to have increased during the crisis, the report says, because women disproportionately shouldered the impact due to pre-existing gender inequalities. They include discrimination in the region’s labour markets, inequality rooted in social-cultural norms and national policy and institutional frameworks that shape Asia’s 734 million female workers.employment opportunities.
“There is now a window of opportunity to address systematic gender inequalities as well as the symptoms thrown up by the crisis and achieve full labour market recovery and successful rebalancing,” the report says. “The policy goal should not be to return to the ‘normal’ pre-crisis situation.. but to rebalance towards a new development trajectory that is job-rich, just, sustainable and inclusive.”
“ADB is committed to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment through our operations. We believe that ADB has a responsibility to set a positive example for the region in tackling gender inequality,” said ADB’s Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Vice President Ms.Ursula Schaefer-Preuss. “This timely report sheds further light on the negative impacts of gender discrimination in the labour force and provides a new chance for governments and societies to increase women’s quality employment options.”
The report points out that poor quality jobs are a greater labour market challenge for women than unemployment. A large proportion of Asia’s women toil in vulnerable, low paid and informal work. In addition female youth unemployment is high and women are still largely perceived as a buffer workforce or secondary earners next to men.
Policies to improve the situation include support for women entrepreneurs; assisting women working in agriculture to boost productivity; reducing Asia’s over-reliance on the informal sector; promoting equal access to quality education and training; gender-responsive social protection; ensuring equality in representation and decision-making and following a rights-based approach.
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