East Asia Pacific Has Made Progress on Gender Equality, But Challenges Remain

March 19, 2012

Gender gaps in education and health have been closing, but important gender disparities remain in access to economic opportunity and in voice and influence in society, says the World Bank

Sydney, March 19, 2012 – A new World Bank report shows improvements in gender equality have been made across East Asia and Pacific, but disparities still exist in a number of important areas. The East Asia Pacific Gender companion to the World Development Report (WDR) 2012 on Gender Equality and Development says improving women’s access to jobs and economic opportunity could significantly boost productivity in the region.

“Eliminating inequality of opportunity in economic participation could increase worker productivity in the region by 7 to 18 percent. This has large implications for economic growth and poverty reduction. So, women’s economic empowerment is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do,” notes Pamela Cox, the World Bank’ East Asia Pacific Vice President.

The report, which is supported by AusAID, is being released by a team of World Bank gender experts in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji. They are speaking with policy makers, civil society, and opinion leaders on the gender agenda and discussing policy options to promote gender equality and more inclusive and effective development.

“The World Bank is committed to supporting countries in addressing the constraints that women face in gaining access to economic opportunity, whether related to strengthening their marketable skills, improving their access to land and capital or increasing their voice and influence in society,” says Pamela Cox.

The regional report states that promoting gender equality in economic opportunities and in voice in society promotes better development outcomes, including higher productivity, increased growth and faster poverty reduction. Although female labor force participation is generally high in East Asia and the Pacific compared to other developing regions, progress has been uneven.

“The East Asia and Pacific region is vast and diverse, with large differences in economic and social progress – including toward gender equality. In some ways, women in the region are better positioned today than ever before to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from development, but much more needs to be done,” said Andrew Mason, lead author of the East Asia Pacific Companion Volume. “Women in the Pacific still face significant barriers to access to economic opportunity and encounter considerable challenges with respect to having voice and influence in society; the Pacific has the lowest share of women in parliament compared to any other region. And, the prevalence of gender-based violence remains high.”

In working towards gender equality globally, the World Development Report (WDR) 2012 and the new East Asia Pacific companion study call for action in five areas:

  • addressing human capital issues, including excess deaths of girls and women and gender gaps in education;
  • closing earning and productivity gaps between women and men;
  • giving women greater voice within households and societies;
  • limiting the perpetuation of gender inequality across generations;
  • and the East Asia Pacific companion study also highlights the importance of managing risks associated with rising trends in the region related to globalization, technology, migration, urbanization, and population aging.

“Focused domestic public policies remain the key to bringing about gender equality,” said Sudhir Shetty, Co-Director of the WDR 2012. “And to be effective, these policies will need to address the root causes of gender gaps. For some problems, as with persistent gender gaps in schooling or high maternal mortality, this will require strengthening the institutions that deliver services. For other gaps, as with unequal access to economic opportunities, policies will need to tackle the multiple constraints –in markets and institutions- that keep women trapped in low productivity/low earning jobs.”

The report recommends that policymakers should address gender gaps in income, but they also should focus on other stubborn gender gaps, for example in voice and influence in society, to ensure the greatest payoffs from policy changes.

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