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Drop in economic participation in South East Asia highlights the need for critical changes and recovery measures for women in the labour sector

News Stories /03 August 2022

Women’s economic participation and opportunity in South East Asia have generally declined, resulting in setbacks in gender equality in the region, World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report reveals.

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed progress on gender parity in labour-force participation as it registered the lowest score this year since the index began. The pandemic also had major consequences for other dimensions of employment and in the distribution of unpaid work, affecting how women access opportunities.

The 2022 edition estimates that globally, it will take 132 years to reach gender parity.

Pre-pandemic, the global timeline stood at 99 years and regressed to 135.6 years in 2021 because of the negative impacts of the health crisis. In regional timelines, South East Asia will need another 168 years to close its gender gap.

The Philippines remains the highest-ranking country in the region when it comes to gender parity. It ranked 19th in the global index. Singapore was a far second, ranking 49th globally. It was followed by Vietnam (83rd), Indonesia (92nd), Cambodia (98th), Malaysia (103rd), Brunei (104th) and Myanmar (106th).

The Philippines ranked 16th out of 146 countries when it comes to economic participation and opportunity, a slight improvement from 2021’s 18th rank. However, it slipped from 33rd to 35th in the political empowerment subindex.

The share of women participating in the workforce remained 24.5% lower than men. Gender parity for legislative, senior officers and managers and professional and technical workers has remained constant.

Vietnam ranked 31st in economic participation and opportunity, down from 26th in 2021, suggesting negative changes in women’s economic participation.

Indonesia and Myanmar also fared poorly when it comes to women’s economic participation in the workplace, ranking 80th and 110th, respectively.

While Indonesia has improved its general global ranking from 101st to 92nd, the country faced a reduction in labour-force participation. The share of women who left the workforce was 2.3%. Both women and men also saw a reduction in estimated income.

These data suggest that the pandemic has brought about long-term consequences that deeply affect women’s economic participation and access to opportunity. Employment losses have also been significantly worse for women than men, making them more likely to face further setbacks in workforce participation and income. Clearly, more work needs to be done to reverse the setbacks brought about by the pandemic.

For almost seven years, Investing in Women (IW) has supported and made strides in the promotion and advancement of women’s economic participation as employees and entrepreneurs in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam. Now in its final year, Investing in Women continues to support the improvement of women’s economic participation as employees and entrepreneurs in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.

To build further momentum for women’s economic empowerment in South East Asia, Australia’s Department of Foreign Trade and Affairs is set to launch IW’s successor program, the Investing in Women: Women in Inclusive, Sustainable Economic Recovery (IWISER) in 2023 as part of its commitment to advancing gender equality in the region.

Building on the strengths of Investing in Women’s learnings, networks and partnerships, IWISER is envisioned to play a significant role in building a more cohesive, dynamic, sustainable and inclusive economy in South East Asia post-pandemic.


Download the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 full report here.

Learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on the private sector employees in our latest fact sheets here.

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