Discrimination and neglect are threatening women’s very survival in the Asia-Pacific region, where women suffer from some of the world’s lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership. Their lack of participation is also depressing economic growth. Those were some of the findings of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-sponsored 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report launched today.
The Report focuses on three key areas —economic power, political decision-making and legal rights― to analyse what holds women back, and how policies and attitudes can be changed to foster a climb toward gender equality. Asia, the Report asserts, is standing at a cross-road and by putting the right policies in place now, countries in the region can achieve positive change.
Lack of women’s participation in the workforce costs the region billions of dollars every year. In countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia conservative estimates show that GDP would increase by up to 2-4 percent annually if women’s employment rates were raised to 70 percent, closer to the rate of many developed countries.
Fewer women than men are in paid work in every country in the region, with striking contrasts between South Asia and East Asia. Nearly 70 percent of East Asian women are in paid work, well above the global average of 53 percent, in countries such as Cambodia, China, and Viet Nam, for example. In South Asian countries like India and Pakistan fewer than 35 percent of women do paid work. These contrasts in women’s paid work between East and South Asia co-exist in parallel with the higher long-term growth trend of the former.
Despite laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, women in this region still earn considerably less than men, with the pay gap ranging from 54 to 90 percent. Women “consistently end up with some of the worst, most poorly-paid jobs —often the ones that men don’t want to do, or that are assumed to be “naturally” suited to women,” the Report found.
The problem of “missing girls” ―in which more boys are born than girls, as girl fetuses are presumably aborted, and women die from health and nutrition neglect— is actually growing. Birth gender disparity is greatest in East Asia, where 119 boys are born for every 100 girls.
China and India together account for more than 85 million of the nearly 100 million “missing” women estimated to have died from discriminatory treatment in health care, nutrition access or pure neglect ―or because they were never born in the first place, the Report found.
A tenth of women here report being assaulted by their partners, and a majority of women who do work —up to 85 percent of South Asia’s working women― are engaged in unstable low-end work in the informal economy.
Few women hold property. Although women predominate in agriculture, they head only 7 percent of farms, compared to 20 percent in most other regions of the world.
“Pervasive gender inequality remains a barrier to progress, justice and social stability, and deprives the region of a significant source of human potential,” the Report concluded.
Full Report can be viewed at: http://www2.undprcc.lk/ext/pvr/pdf/Main_Report.pdf