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Strengthening Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN

Organistaion for Economic Co-operation and Development


Other Countries Asia Pacific


Impact Investing

Women entrepreneurs Entrepreneurship Women in business

Strengthening Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN

Strengthening Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN

The Strengthening Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN: Towards increasing women’s participation in economic activity report from the OECD discusses labour market participation of women and women’s entrepreneurship in the ASEAN region today. It takes stock of key challenges women are facing, analyses the policy landscape, identifies gaps, and proposes recommendations to advance the role of women in the labour market, as entrepreneurs and business owners, presenting best practice examples from both the region and the OECD.

The report provides an in-depth account of recent trends in labour market gaps between men and women in ASEAN countries. It advances a comprehensive set of policy options and practices to build inclusive and resilient labour markets in the region, reaping the full benefits of women’s participation. It complements and builds on other studies on different aspects of women’s entrepreneurship that have been carried out in the ASEAN region in recent years.

The report provides data and analysis for all 10 of the ASEAN member states along with a detailed overview of policies and programmes specifically geared to support women’s entrepreneurship and the development of women-owned MSMEs, at both the national and the community level in ASEAN. In doing so, it expands the analysis on women’s entrepreneurship in the region, and provides further insights on the policies needed to address the main gender gaps that are holding back women’s entrepreneurship.


Equal access to educational opportunities at all levels of schooling is essential to equip women with the skills and knowledge they need to seize economic opportunities throughout their lifetimes. While countries in Southeast Asia have made great strides towards achieving universal primary enrolment, girls are at greater risk of being excluded from basic education, due in part to competing household responsibilities. And despite the fact that girls often outperform boys at school, their chosen fields of study – often education, humanities and the arts – tend to limit their access to well-paying professions later on.

Notably, women’s overall participation in the labour force is high in Southeast Asia compared to their OECD counterparts, particularly in the region’s low-income countries. The female labour force participation rate in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Myanmar averages around 80%, and 50-70% in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam. This compares to a rate of just under 60% in OECD countries.

However, these figures do not necessarily translate into optimal economic outcomes for women in the region. For example, in the low income countries, women’s labour force participation tends to be driven by economic necessity rather than opportunity. Many women across the region are relegated to work in low value-added and informal jobs, whilst they continue to receive significantly lower wages than their male counterparts.

As women entering the labour market are disadvantaged in finding quality paid employment, they must often look to other sources of income, notably self-employment. This fact is witnessed by the high self-employment rates2 for women in the region – roughly 50% compared to an average of 13% in OECD countries. Where women operate their own businesses, these tend to be in the most disadvantaged sectors, predominantly in agriculture; even those specialising in industry or services tend to concentrate on a limited number of activities, such as catering, tailoring, beauty and food processing. Women-owned businesses often lag behind male-owned enterprises in terms of size, productivity, and tend to be less profitable, with little potential for further expansion. They are also less resilient to the impact of adverse economic shocks.

Coupled with the markedly lower female participation rates in the region’s higher-income countries, these findings suggest that more must be done to address gender imbalances in Southeast Asia. International experience shows that inherited customs and social norms create pressures by reinforcing gender stereotypes, thus constituting one of the main constraints for female employment and entrepreneurship. As women need to balance business or employment with the demands of family and household care, they have to pursue economic activities that offer less career opportunities, are less innovative and typically confined to traditional roles.


  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Acronyms and abbreviations
  • Executive Summary
  • Key Messages and Recommendations to Strengthen Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN
  • Chapter 1 : Closing gender gaps in the labour markets of Southeast Asian countries
    • Introduction
    • Main findings
    • Policy implications
    • References
    • Database references
  • Chapter 2 : Policies and institutional structures in support of women’s entrepreneurship development in ASEAN member states
    • Introduction
    • Policy implications
    • Policy improvements
    • References
  • Chapter 3 : Support programmes for development of women entrepreneurs and their enterprises
    • Introduction
    • Policy implications
    • References
  • Conclusion
  • Annexes
    • Annex 1. Comparison of national policies and MSME strategies vis-à-vis integration of women’s entrepreneurship
    • Annex 2. Comparison of institutional supports for women’s entrepreneurship development (WED)
    • Annex 3. Comparison of presence of women’s enterprise centres and business incubators
    • Annex 4. Comparison of financing programmes tailored to women
    • Annex 5. Comparison of business development services tailored to women entrepreneurs
    • Annex 6. Comparison of programmes to integrate women entrepreneurs into markets
    • Annex 7. Comparison of ICT initiatives tailored to women entrepreneurs and women-owned enterprises
    • Annex 8. Women entrepreneurs’ associations and networks in the ASEAN countries
  • References
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