7 January 2020 | News/Stories

Slump in gender gap report rankings stresses need to strengthen women empowerment efforts in South East Asia

Only two of ASEAN’s 10 member states show improvement in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Singapore climbed to the 54th spot from 67th, while Cambodia rose to 89th from 93rd.  Indonesia retained the 85th spot, while the seven other member countries ranked considerably lower compared to their standing in the 2018 report.

The report compares gaps between women and men across 153 countries based on indicators of economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

The Philippines slipped by eight places to 16th in the overall index of the report. Laos is a far second to the Philippines among ASEAN countries at 43rd, a significant drop from ranking 26th in 2018. Thailand slipped two notches to 75th, Brunei by five places to 95th, and Malaysia by three spots to 104th. Vietnam dropped 10 places at 87th while Myanmar fell to the 114th spot—26 places lower than its 2018 standing.

Findings from the latest Global Gender Gap Report suggest that gender parity will not be attained for another 99.5 years, and the drop in the rankings of ASEAN nations highlights the need for stronger efforts to close gender gaps in the region.

Rankings of ASEAN countries for economic participation and opportunity have generally declined. This should be of particular concern to governments and the private sector, as it suggests a regression of gender equality in the above-mentioned areas. The report highlights three primary reasons for the decrease in women’s economic participation: women have greater representation in roles that are being automated; not enough women are entering professions where wage growth is the most pronounced (most obviously, but not exclusively, technology); and women face the perennial problem of insufficient care infrastructure and access to capital.

“These findings show that although a similar number of women and men graduate from school and university, societal barriers continue to prevent them from accessing economic opportunities” said Dr Julia Newton-Howes, CEO of Investing in Women.

Indonesia is one of the countries that improved in terms of economic participation and opportunity, based on the report. The index indicates that the country ranks better in women’s representation as managers, senior officials and legislators, as well as slightly improved in labour force participation (115th from 118th).  The country has climbed to the 68th spot in economic participation (from 96th) but dipped in rankings for political empowerment (82nd from 60th).

While Vietnam had gains in terms of labour force participation (30th from 32nd) and wage equality (62nd from 71st), its position in the political empowerment sub-index dropped to 110th from 99th previously.

The slump in Myanmar’s overall ranking is linked to its steep decline in rankings for the economic participation sub-index, setbacks for equality in estimated earned income and representation in legislative and senior management positions.

The Philippines remains the most gender-equal country in South East Asia despite falling eight notches lower to the 16th spot. In terms of women’s labour force participation, the Philippines fell further to ranking 121st this year from 106th. It also performed poorly in the political empowerment sub-index, dropping 16 places to the 29th spot, in part due to having fewer women in ministerial positions.

“In many of the South East Asian countries in the report, there is a broad recognition of the benefits of gender equality, as seen in recently implemented progressive policies,” Dr Newton-Howes said, citing as examples the Expanded Maternity Leave Act in the Philippines and changes to the Vietnam Labour Code. “Yet, women continue to face barriers in participating as employees and entrepreneurs.”

“It is time to recognise and address gender norms that keep women out of the workforce. When only women are expected to take on caring roles or when some jobs are seen as suitable for only one sex, we are short-changing our economies and businesses,” Dr Newton-Howes added.

Now on its second phase, Investing in Women continues to use innovative approaches in improving women’s economic participation as employees and as entrepreneurs in its target countries.

It supports business coalitions in advancing workplace gender equality; partners with impact investors in catalysing access to capital for women’s SMEs; and works with local campaign partners on influencing gender norms.

Download the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 full report here.

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