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Gender Overview

March 10, 2014

© World Bank


East Asia and the Pacific has experienced faster growth and poverty reduction than any other region. This has contributed to narrowing of gender gaps in several areas, most notably in education and health. Gender gaps in access to education—including at the secondary and tertiary levels—have closed dramatically. Fertility rates have declined sharply. Significant gains have also been made in share of births attended by skilled health professionals, and the maternal mortality ratio had decreased to 83 per 100,000 live births by 2010. 

Female labor force participation is relatively high with about 70 percent of women in the region participating in economic activities. This is higher than in any other region. And, women also have higher participation in the management and ownership of firms than in other developing regions. 

Despite progress, important challenges remain to achieving gender equality in the region. Growth and development alone are not sufficient to achieve gender equality in all dimensions and for all women. Gender gaps in economic opportunity and influence in society have proven particularly persistent. Women still earn less than men for similar work—around 70 to 80 percent, on average. Female workers are more likely than men to work as unpaid family labor or in the informal sector. Whether as farmers or entrepreneurs, women still own less land and have weaker access to productive inputs, adversely affecting productivity and profitability. 

World Bank analysis finds that promoting gender equality in access to productive resources and economic opportunity can contribute to higher economic productivity benefitting women and men alike. If societies in East Asia and Pacific were to allocate resources on the basis of people’s skills and abilities, rather than by their gender, per worker productivity could increase by as much as 7 to 18 percent, with important implications for growth and poverty reduction.

Women continue to have weaker voice and influence than men in the home, in politics, and in civil society. And violence against women—an extreme manifestation of powerlessness—remains high. Women’s lack of voice and influence is particularly acute in the Pacific, where the prevalence of gender-based violence is among the highest of any developing region. 


In fiscal year 2013, 98 percent of all new World Bank lending and grants in the region supported gender-informed operations in such areas as access to infrastructure, land, and jobs; improved access to financial, agricultural, health and education services; and more equal participation among men and women in local public decision making and management of resources. 

The World Bank Group’s approach to gender in the East Asia and Pacific region is informed by the recent World Development Report on Gender and the regional companion study, Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific. Both reports demonstrate that promoting gender equality in access to productive resources, economic opportunities, and voice contributes to higher economic productivity for women and men alike.

The World Bank aims to put into practice the findings and recommendation of the two reports through the Regional Gender Action Plan, to help ensure that women and men benefit equitably from development and thereby contribute to making development more effective.

Gender issues in the region reflect the diversity of country contexts, with significant disparities between middle- and low-income countries. This diversity calls for a country-specific approach to addressing disparities and catalyzing change, using a mix of analytical work, policy dialogue, and gender mainstreamed as well as gender-focused operations.

The East Asia and Pacific unit of the World Bank works with each country to prepare a Country Gender Action Plan (C-GAP) that is linked to the respective Country Partnership Strategy and informed by an analysis of key gender issues. Several of these strategies put gender at the forefront of the Bank’s program 

Examples of C-GAP activities focused on improving economic opportunities for women include: 

In FY13, a total of 12 countries prepared or updated Country Gender Action Plans (C-GAPs), which include specific targets for improving gender equality in access to resources and economic markets, agency, and in relation to evolving trends such as urbanization, population aging, climate change and disaster resilience. 


Human Development and Productive Resources

  • In Cambodia, where maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the region, the share of births delivered by trained health personnel rose from 65 percent in FY09 to 85 percent in FY13 and the share of pregnant women attending at least two antenatal care consultations rose from 80 percent to 94 percent in the same period, during the implementation of the Health Sector Support Program.
  • Water and sanitation and nutrition projects across the region are reaching out to women and mothers as agents to help improve the health of their family members. As a result of the Vietnam Red River Water Supply and Sanitation Project over 95 percent of decisions related to sanitation at the household level are taken by women and they are more frequent users of public sanitation facilities in health clinics and community houses. 
  • The Rural Electrification Project in Lao PDR provided targeted subsidies for the poor, with gender-sensitive design, consultation and eligibility criteria. As a result, the connection rate among female-headed household rose from 67 percent to 95 percent and the program has been scaled up nationally.

Access to Jobs and Markets

  • In the Solomon Islands 287,000 workdays were created during 2010-12, and more than 4,500 people – 57 percent women and 50 percent young people—were trained and employed through the Rapid Employment Project.
  • Impact evaluation results (pdf) from the Community Driven Development Project KALAHI-CIDSS in the Philippines indicate that the project has led to a 5.8 percent increase in women’s labor force participation. 
  • In partnership with the Vietnam Women’s Union and UN Women, the World Bank launched the Vietnam Women’s Innovation Day in 2013 to promote and support initiatives of economic empowerment for women. Also in Vietnam and in 2013, 18.389 women gained an income from actively participating in the maintenance of 2.659 km. of rural roads across 24 districts under the “Women-self managed road program”, which is coordinated by the Provincial Women’s Union is the Vietnam Third Rural Transport Project. And 32 percent of households in Khanh Hao and 47 percent in Tien Giang used their newly secured land titles as collateral for bank loans between 2007 and 2011 through the Vietnam Land Administration Project.
  • The Neang Kongrey Cookstove Initiative in Cambodia is increasing job opportunities and market access for rural women. From 2008 to 2011, women who had been trained to use, produce, and sell environmentally-friendly clay cook stoves increased their daily incomes by an average of 61 percent.
  • The Lao PDR Trade Facility Project has made strategic targets (pdf) for female entrepreneurs and workers, for example through support to better conditions and working practices in export manufacturing where disproportionate shares of employees are female.
  • Hundreds of thousands of women are being reached through World Bank Group-supported microfinance activities in the region, including rural women and female entrepreneurs in Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste

Voice and Participation

  • The Poverty Reduction Fund in Lao PDR has a built-in mechanism to favor proposals identified by women in poor rural communities for public services and small-scale infrastructure. As a result, 650,000 poor people in remote areas gained access to basic services between 2003 and 2011, with 91 percent of these projects reflecting the priorities of women. 
  • The Mining Sector Technical Assistance Project (MTAP2) in Papua New Guinea helped create a forum for women to engage in negotiation processes in the mining sector. Compensation agreements at the Ok Tedi mine were groundbreaking for having secured enhanced rights for women in legally enforceable mining agreements. 
  • In partnership with governments and other donors the World Bank is increasing addressing gender-based violence; for example in Timor-Leste the World Bank has led a National Consultation on Gender Based Violence (2013). In Papua New Guinea the Ministry of Mining is championing the issue and men are important partners in connection with gender-based violence training. In Kiribati and Solomon Islands support is being provided to strengthen front-line service providers for victims of gender-based violence and to strengthening data collection on incidents, reports and legal outcomes of violence. 
  • More than 3,400 female overseas migrant workers and their families in the Java region of Indonesia have benefitted from improved infrastructure for protection, access to information and finance provided under the Indonesia Empowering Women Overseas Migrant Workers Project


A number of external partners help to advance the gender equality agenda at the national and regional level, through knowledge sharing, funding, and collaborative research and operational work.  

An example of such partnership is the EAP Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality (UFGE, .pdf), which is a multi-donor  trust fund that helps to strengthen awareness, knowledge, and capacity for gender-informed policy making. 

As of March 2014