20 December 2018 | Press Release

Mixed gender gap data highlight need to change mindsets in South East Asia

The gender equality landscape is mixed in ASEAN, with the Philippines named one of the best-performing countries in World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 published Tuesday while six countries in the region landed in the bottom half of the rankings.

The Philippines ranked 8th out of 149 countries, up from ranking 10th out of 144 countries last year, in the global list that compares the gap between women and men based on four pillars: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

Lao PDR was a far second to the Philippines among ASEAN countries in the ranking, taking the 26th spot. It was followed by Singapore (67th), Thailand (73rd), Vietnam (77th), Indonesia (85th), Myanmar (88th), Cambodia (98th), Brunei (90th) and Malaysia (101st).

The Philippines’ biggest gain was in economic participation and opportunity, where it ranked 14th this year from 21st previously, with the report showing progress on wage equality for similar work. Women’s salaries are 76% that of men on average among Filipino workers, data from the report showed.

The report also said the Philippines has closed the gap this year in terms of the ratio of women and men in leadership roles, including as legislators and senior managers.

But the country remains one of the poorest performers in the region on labour force participation, ranking 106th in this indicator, unchanged from 2017. Since 2006, the WEF has been reporting that some 50% of women are part of the Philippine workforce, compared to some 80% of men.

Indonesia and Myanmar also fare poorly in women’s participation in the workforce, ranking 118th and 109th respectively for this indicator.

The picture is different in Vietnam, where some 80% of women participate in the labour force, closer to the rate among men, 87%. It ranked 32nd on this indicator. It is in pay where the gender gap is still evident, with the WEF placing Vietnam 71st globally in terms of wage equality.

Vietnam is also facing challenges in progressing women to leadership positions. It ranked 94th in this indicator in 2018, sliding further from its 85th spot last year.

“These data highlight the need to examine and address barriers for women to enter and thrive in the workplace,” said Dr Julia Newton-Howes, CEO of Investing in Women (IW), an initiative of the Australian Government that promotes women’s economic empowerment in South East Asia.

Low workforce participation and lack of representation in leadership roles, she said, are red flags for institutional barriers that prevent women from accessing opportunity. “Women have the skills and the drive to succeed; we should ensure that the system allows them to,” Dr Newton-Howes added.

Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam have all made strides in closing gender gaps in education, indicating that the pool of talent and skills includes women. The WEF report, in fact, noted that in all these countries, women enroll in tertiary education at a higher rate than men.

Results of an IW survey among working urban millennials in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, also contradict notions that women are out of the workforce by choice, as it showed that women want to work to be economically independent and are as keen as men to get a promotion.

“Gender discrimination at work and at home are more likely factors that keep women from advancing their careers. As well as putting in place policies and practices that promote gender equality, we need to work harder toward addressing gender norms that limit women’s participation and promotion prospects at work,” Dr Newton-Howes said.

She pointed to the IW survey where respondents report unequal treatment of women and men in the workforce and a tendency for women to experience harassment at work. Women also take on the bulk of domestic responsibilities, even when they work full-time.

Gender discrimination in the workplace and normalising men’s roles at home are two of IW’s areas of focus. In Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam, IW has supported the establishment of Business Coalitions committed to promoting workplace gender equality.

IW also works with partners to run campaigns aimed at changing harmful gender norms. “The mixed landscape on gender equality is a challenge but also an opportunity for ASEAN to learn from each other and to move together toward strong, inclusive economic growth using the talents of women and men,” Dr Newton-Howes said.

Download the full World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2018 here.

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