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Active Policy Required to Close Remaining Gender Gaps in E Asia Pacific

World Bank, June 18, 2012 Adjust font size:

A new World Bank report shows that while gender equality has increased across East Asia and the Pacific, disparities still exist in a number of important areas. The report, entitled "Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific", says improving women's access to jobs and economic opportunity could significantly boost productivity in the region.

"Eliminating inequality of opportunity in economic participation could increase worker productivity in the region by 7 to 18 percent. This has large implications for economic growth and poverty reduction. So, women's economic empowerment is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do," notes Pamela Cox, the World Bank's East Asia Pacific Vice President.

The report, which received support from AusAID, is being released by a team of World Bank gender experts in Bangkok. They are speaking with policy makers, civil society, and opinion leaders on the gender and development agenda and discussing policy options to promote gender equality and more effective development.

"The World Bank is committed to supporting countries in addressing the constraints that women face in gaining access to economic opportunity, whether related to strengthening their marketable skills, improving their access to land and capital or increasing their voice and influence in society," says Annette Dixon, the World Bank's Country Director for Southeast Asia.

The study states that promoting gender equality in economic opportunities and in voice in society promotes better development outcomes, including higher productivity, increased growth and faster poverty reduction. Although female labor force participation is generally high in East Asia and the Pacific compared to other developing regions, progress has been uneven.

"The East Asia and Pacific region is vast and diverse, with large differences in economic and social progress – including toward gender equality. In some ways, women in the region are better positioned today than ever before to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from development, but much more needs to be done," states Andrew Mason, the report's lead author.

As a regional report, Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific examines issues that are particularly relevant to the region, including the gender dimensions of several emerging trends—increased global economic integration, the rising use of information and communication technologies, migration, urbanization, and rapid population aging—all of which are generating new opportunities, but also new risks, for promoting gender equality.

The report contributes new data and evidence on gender and development, significantly strengthening the ability of countries to formulate evidence-based policy in this area.

Drawing on this improved evidence base, the report identifies four priority areas for public action in the countries of East Asia and the Pacific:

• First, promoting gender equality in human development where gender gaps in education and health outcomes remain large.

• Second, closing gender gaps in economic opportunity. Closing these gaps is often warranted on both equity and efficiency grounds.

• Third, strengthening women's voice and influence—and protecting them from violence. Strengthening women's voice will enhance the quality of development decision making and, thus, development broadly.

• And, finally, fostering the opportunities and managing the risks associated with emerging regional trends. Taking a gender-aware approach to policy making in this area will lead to better gender—and development—outcomes.

The report underscores that gender equality in many areas does not happen automatically with growth and development. For this reason, gender-aware public policy is required if countries are to achieve both gender equality and more rapid development.

"Policymakers in the region need to understand why progress in closing gender gaps has been mixed and to implement corrective policies where gaps persist," notes Mason. "At the end of the day, gender equality is both an important development objective in its own right as well as good development policy."

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