Women’s economic empowerment is an important economic, social and human rights issue for ASEAN.
Recent research by UN Women estimates the income cost to ASEAN economies of gender gaps in labour force and entrepreneurship equate to an average 17 per cent of GDP. A study by McKinsey Global Institute calculates that advancing gender equality could lift GDP by 8 per cent over the business-as-usual scenario, adding US$900 billion in additional annual output to the economies of East and South East Asia in 2025.
Female workforce participation rates vary between ASEAN countries. According to International Labour Organization modelled estimates for 2017, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, for example, have high female workforce participation rates of 81, 77 and 73 per cent respectively. Most other ASEAN countries are in the 50-60 per cent range, with the Philippines the lowest at 50.
The male-female labour force participation gap also varies among ASEAN countries. It is narrow in Laos, at 3 per cent, and widest in Indonesia at 33 per cent. Since 1990, the gap has shrunk in some countries, suggesting that change is possible with positive policy adjustments in support of women’s workforce participation.
Australia is a strong supporter of ASEAN’s women’s economic empowerment goals.
In 2017, Australia co-hosted an event, titled Women’s Economic Empowerment: the next driver of ASEAN’s success, as part of the ASEAN Women’s Business Conference in Manila, the Philippines. The event focused on practical ways to increase women’s participation in the workforce to support stronger economic growth across ASEAN. This event influenced the subsequent ASEAN Manila Statement and Action Agenda on mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment, which are available on ASEAN’s website, www.asean.org
In March, the Australian Government hosted the Women in Business Breakfast event during the ASEAN-Australia Business Summit. The event aimed to reinforce the important message that women’s economic empowerment underpins future regional prosperity. It brought together more than 130 delegates from business, civil society and government.
Together, ASEAN countries have committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment through a number of channels. These include the Declaration of the Advancement of Women in the ASEAN Region (1988), the ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for SME Development 2016 2025, and the Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowermentmentioned above.
Australian Dept of Foreign Affairs | Business Envoy