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Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific

April 8, 2014

World Bank Group

The East Asia and Pacific region of the World Bank Group recognizes the important role for public action to ensure continued progress toward gender equality in the region. In fiscal year 2013 alone, 98% of all new lending and grants in the region were allocated to gender-informed operations across all development areas. This is up from 65% in fiscal year 2010 and illustrates the continued efforts made to ensure that women and men benefit equitably from development and thus contribute to enhancing development effectiveness.


As a region, 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. However, important challenges remain to achieve gender equality in the region, and growth and development alone are not sufficient to reach equality in all dimensions and for all women. Gender gaps in economic opportunity and influence in society have proven particularly persistent. Gaps in access to basic education remain in a few countries where overall enrollment rates are also relatively low; in several countries, gaps persist among specific sub-groups–like ethnic minority groups. Maternal mortality remains high in several countries and over a million girls are never born due to strong son preference.

Women still earn less than men for similar work–around 70% to 80%, on average–and female workers are more likely than men to work as unpaid family labor or in the informal sector. Overall, women still own less land and have weaker access to productive inputs. Women continue to have weaker voice and influence than men in the home, in politics, and in civil society. And violence against women remains high. 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%, with important implications for shared growth and poverty reduction.


The EAP region of the World Bank Group recognizes the important role for public action to ensure continued progress towards gender equality and it continues to increase and deepen attention to gender in its portfolio. In fiscal year 2013 alone, 98% of all new lending and grants in the region were allocated to gender-informed operations across the various sectors (up from 65% in FY10).

Gender issues in the EAP Region reflect the diversity of country contexts with significant disparities between middle and low income countries. The Region therefore takes a highly country-specific approach to addressing disparities and catalyzing change. In fiscal year 2013, a total of 12 countries prepared Country Gender Action Plans (C-GAPs) including country level gender monitoring frameworks to track progress.

The regional program is informed by various gender diagnostics, not least the companion to the World Development Report 2012: Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific.


IBRD and IDA projects are contributing to achievements in each of these priority areas:


  • In Cambodia, the share of births delivery by trained health personnel increased from 65% in 2009 to 85% in 2013 during the implementation of the Cambodia Second Health Support Program.
  • In Lao PDR, the share of women going through labor in the past 12 months that delivered in a health facility increased from 20 % in 2010 to 34% in 2014, in areas served by the Community Nutrition Project.

Access to economic opportunities

  • The Community Driven Development Project KALAHI-CIDSS  led to a 5.8% increase in women’s labor force participation compared to what would have happened without the project.
  • In the Solomon Islands 287,000 work-days were created during 2010-12, and more than 4,500 people–57% women and 50% young people–were trained and employed through the Rapid Employment Project.
  • Hundreds of thousands women are being reached through World Bank Group-supported microfinance activities in the region, including in Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea and in Timor Leste.
  • 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 under the Vietnam Third Rural Transport Project.

Voice and participation

  • The Poverty Reduction Fund in Lao PDR builds in a mechanism which favors proposals for public services and small scale infrastructure identified by women in poor rural communities. 650,000 poor people in remote areas gained access to basic services between 2003 and 2011 and 91% of the projects reflected women’s priorities.


  • Investments in analysis of how to integrate gender in disaster risk management supported policy dialogue and operations across the region. As a result example, when in July 2013, Kwaibaita River Flash Floods struck the Malaita province in the Solomon Islands, thanks to prior training provided to government staff on “Gender and Protection in Emergencies”, women were for the first time included on the assessment team. 

Highlights of results from IDA countries:

  • Cambodia: Share of births delivered by trained health personnel increased from 65% to 85% between 2009 and 2013.
  • Lao PDR: Share of women giving birth in a health facility increased from 20% to 34% between 2010 and 2013 in areas under the Community Nutrition Project.
  • Solomon Islands: 2,565 women trained and employed.
  • Lao PDR: 650,000 people gained access to basic services through a project that developed priorities chosen by women.
  • Vietnam: 18,389 women gained an income from maintenance work of 2,659 km of rural roads.

" With the project’s support, it can really open up women’s minds. We are already seeing women making decisions with their husbands, and sitting down together to plan for the future. "

Florence Mormor

Cocoa Farmer in Papua New Guinea, speaking of the Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project


In EAP, 35 new IDA and IBRD projects were approved in fiscal year 2013. Of these projects, 98% addressed gender in their analysis, actions and/or monitoring and evaluation framework. In fact, 73 and 76% of the IDA and IBRD projects respectively addressed gender in their analysis during project preparation which often then led to specific actions and/or monitoring being developed for the project to directly contribute to reducing gender inequalities. These interventions addressed a broad array of areas such as access for men and women, boys and girls, 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 Bank is actively engaged in country level coordination and knowledge sharing on gender and joins a number of external partners to help advance the gender equality agenda at the national and regional level, through knowledge sharing, funding, and collaborative research and operational work.

For example, the government of Papua New Guinea and more than three dozen development partners participated in the Country Gender Assessment, which created a platform for policy discussion and public outreach on gender-based violence. Other examples of partnerships around Country Gender Assessment include the Asia Development Bank (in Lao PDR and the Philippines) and AusAid, UK Aid and UN Women in Vietnam.

The East Asia and Pacific Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality (UFGE) is a multi-donor trust fund that helps to strengthen awareness, knowledge, and capacity for gender-informed policy making in the region. Two rounds of calls were made in FY13 and 14 for proposals to increase gender data through impact evaluation results and knowledge work from the region and test recommendations for how to effectively address specific gender inequalities. A total of 32 proposals were received at the total amount of more than US$3 million against a window of US$1.2 million. Fifteen proposals from across all areas of development work in the World Bank were funded, addressing for example gender dimensions of urbanization in China and Vietnam; literacy in the Solomon Islands, and informal trade in the Mekong region.


The region will continue to further deepen support to gender equality by addressing priority gender gaps through lending, analysis and technical assistance. To support such a deepening of efforts the region has allocated funds through the EAP-UFGE to strengthen the capacity for undertaking gender-informed investments and policy making in East Asia and Pacific countries. Ongoing and upcoming initiatives include, among others:

  • Understanding older women’s labor force behavior and sources of support in the region, and the interaction of long-term care and female labor force participation in China.
  • Better understanding of the underlying issues that lead Mongolian men and boys to adopt detrimental behaviors (e.g., gender-based violence, alcoholism, school dropout) and implementing pilot outreach through media and “men support groups” in selected neighborhoods of Ulaanbaatar.
  • Generating data to help mainstream gender concerns into the fisheries sector of the Pacific Islands given the growing role of women in both production and value chain development, and the importance of the sector to food security, livelihoods, nutrition and health in those communities.
  • Investigating women’s access to and de facto control over forestland in China as well as actual access to associated resources and services; better understanding women’s participation in decisions regarding the utilization and protection of forest, as a key representative of natural resources in China; enriching the ongoing annual survey and existing database on social and economic impacts of forest tenure reform in China by tracking impacts on women’s status and wellbeing. 

Watch this video to find out about the challenges confronting women in Laos and what can be done to empower them more.

World Bank Group

Women in the East Asia and Pacific Region are less equal than men and are often expected to support men. But a new generation is emerging that, with help, can achieve what was not always available to their mothers: equality in rights and in access to services.

World Bank Group

of births delivered by trained health personnel in 2013, up from 65% in 2009 through the implementation of the Cambodia Second Health Support Program.
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