(Bangkok, Thailand) – The women of ASEAN already contribute significantly to the ASEAN economies. Yet many obstacles remain which must be removed to ensure their equal participation in and benefit from ASEAN economic growth and development. This was one of the main findings of the research report on the Projected Gender Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community, undertaken by the ASEAN Secretariat, UN Women and the German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) with the support of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Economic growth across the 10 Member States has averaged 5 per cent a year, and the job market for the population of 622 million is estimated to be worth USD 2.6 trillion dollars annually. But women’s lack of equal opportunities costed the region’s economies an estimated 18 per cent of GDP, or almost half a billion dollars in 2015. ASEAN economies have “potentially vast numbers of skilled and unskilled female workers that are not being fully included,” said Adrienne Woltersdorf, Director of the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia. “Economies pay a price for keeping women out.”
Despite legislation on equal opportunities in every ASEAN country, women spend fewer years in school and have fewer jobs in high-value roles or sectors. They also do much more unpaid work, and have limited access to formal credit. In many ASEAN countries, traditions and customs further limit opportunities.
“Women workers play a critical role in ASEAN, making significant economic contributions to their families, communities and societies,” said Roberta Clarke, Regional Director of UN Women Asia and the Pacific and Representative in Thailand. “However, our study shows that women also suffer from specific and deeply gendered inequalities.”
Each barrier to women’s empowerment is “a missed opportunity for development and economic growth,” said Simon Merrifield, Australian Ambassador to ASEAN.
Much more needs to be done if women are to enjoy equality and participate in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Progress on girls’ participation in school must continue, but it is also important to ensure the enabling environment for women in the labour force, for example through the provision of better childcare and parental leave, the study found. Role models and mentorship programmes can also help shift gender norms.
Without targeted measures, such as access to credit, technology and non-traditional vocational training and education, the potential of the AEC for women’s empowerment may not be realized. The changes required are not only in the market and the economy but also the private sphere. “It is our hope that this study will encourage ASEAN Member States to adopt strategies that will address inequalities that
inhibit women’s full participation in the economy,” said Emmeline L. Verzosa, Executive Director of the Philippine Commission on Women and Chair of the ASEAN Committee on Women. “One way is through the recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care and domestic work.”
The study makes a number of recommendations aimed at increasing women’s share in the regional and national trade and national income. This, Clarke said, is a win-win strategy for women’s rights, the society, economy, private businesses and individuals.