Window of opportunity for Asia to improve gender equality at work - ILO, ADB

MANILA (ILO News): Asian countries have a window of opportunity to tackle gender inequality in their labour markets and support sustainable crisis recovery, according to a new report prepared jointly by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Press release | 29 April 2011

MANILA (ILO News): Asian countries have a window of opportunity to tackle gender inequality in their labour markets and support sustainable crisis recovery, according to a new report prepared jointly by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The report, Women and Labour Markets in Asia: Rebalancing for Gender Equality, says that although Asia is helping to lead the global economy, recovery of the labour market from the recent global economic and financial crisis has not kept pace. In some developing countries, particularly in East Asia, job growth is back, but the quality of jobs being created is a major concern. In particular, 45 per cent of the vast productive potential of Asian women remains untapped, compared to just 19 per cent for Asian men.

Even before the crisis, Asia was estimated to be losing US$42-$47 billion a year because of limits on women’s access to employment opportunities and another US$16-$30 billion a year as a result of gender gaps in education, according to estimates by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Although the region’s economic growth of 6.2 per cent in 2000-2007 greatly exceeded the global average of 4.2 per cent, average growth in women’s employment was just 1.7 per cent- below the world average of 2 per cent.

These deficits are likely to have increased during the crisis, the report says, because women disproportionately shouldered the impact due to pre-existing gender inequalities. They include discrimination throughout the region’s labour markets, inequality rooted in social-cultural norms and national policy and institutional frameworks that shape the employment opportunities of Asia’s 734 million female workers.

The report says that “there is now a window of opportunity to address systematic gender inequalities as well as the symptoms thrown up by the crisis, and achieve full labour market recovery and successful rebalancing.” It adds that “the policy goal should not be to return to the ‘normal’ pre-crisis situation…but to rebalance towards a new development trajectory that is job-rich, just, sustainable and inclusive”.

“Asia faces both old and new challenges and it needs to address both if it is to reap the social and economic benefits of gender equality,” said Sachiko Yamamoto, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “The drive to rebalance towards more sustainable, fairer development must not distract policy-makers from dealing with ingrained gender inequalities. One cannot succeed without the other and the social and economic costs of missing this opportunity will be felt for decades. The ILO stands ready to help with this, an important step towards the goal of decent work for all”.

The report points out that poor quality jobs are a greater labour market challenge for women than unemployment. A large proportion of women in Asia toils in low-productivity, vulnerable and low-paid informal work. In addition, female youth unemployment is high and women remain largely perceived as a buffer workforce or secondary earners next to men.

Suggested policies include support for women entrepreneurs; assisting women working in agriculture to boost productivity; reducing Asia’s over-reliance on the informal sector; promoting equal access to quality education and training; gender-responsive social protection; ensuring equality in representation and decision-making; and following a rights-based approach.

Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB’s Vice President of Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, said that “ADB is firmly committed to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment through our operations. We believe that ADB has a responsibility to set a positive example for the region in tackling gender inequality. This timely report sheds further light on the negative impacts of gender discrimination in the labour force, and provides a new chance for governments and societies to increase quality employment options for women”.

The report is a joint undertaking by the ADB and the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, reflecting the high-level commitment of both organizations to gender equality as an economic and social investment that will generate enormous dividends for sustainable development in the region.

The ILO is the UN specialized agency concerned with work and workplace issues and related rights and standards. Its overarching goal is to achieve decent work for all so everyone benefits from working conditions that offer freedom, equity, security and human dignity. It has 33 member states in Asia Pacific and more than 180 worldwide.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region. In 2010, ADB approvals, including co-financing, totalled $17.51 billion. In addition, ADB's ongoing Trade Finance Program supported $2.8 billion in trade.

Click here for the Women and labour markets in Asia: Rebalancing for gender equality and Concluding remarks - Women and labour markets in Asia or visit and

For further information please contact:

Ms Minette Rimando
ILO Country Office for the Philippines
+63 2 580 9905 or 580 9900

Ms Sophy Fisher

ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok
Tel: + 662 (0) 2288 2482

Ms Harumi Kodama

Asian Development Bank, Manila
Tel: +632 (0) 632 5291