ASEAN leads gender parity charge to drive economic growth

Good news: economic participation within ASEAN is higher than the global average, according to a world Economic Forum report.

"Leaders in the region are increasingly emphasising the importance of inclusive growth."
Eugenia Victorino, Economist, ANZ

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The gender pay divide in the ASEAN region has also narrowed, more good news. Leaders in the region are increasingly emphasising the importance of inclusive growth in leading economic development.

The bad news however is the region is still some way from parity. Despite recent improvements in economic participation, 40 per cent of the gender gap remains.

The release of this report allowed ANZ to assess how ASEAN and India have fared compared to the rest of the world over the past year, as well as apply a gender lens to the ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence Index results for the region.

On a composite measure including economic participation, political empowerment, health and education attainment, the Philippines ranks highest overall from the region, at 9th globally. New Zealand comes in next at 13th.

Closing the gender gap, specifically in economic participation, has the potential to provide a powerful second demographic dividend for Asia. Indeed, for those economies across Asia which have an ageing labour force and now appear to have reaped their headline generic growth dividend, encouraging greater female participation is a significant further option to boost growth.

Increased remuneration and participation for women not only improves their quality of life as individuals, it leads to greater spending, business creation and savings across the region.

Globally, over the last six years, most countries have closed the gender gaps in health and educational attainment with scores around 96 and 93.5 per cent respectively. However, the average score for economic participation has remained low – at around 60 per cent. Even worse still is the gap in political empowerment – with only 21.4 per cent of the gap being closed (the gap standing at 78.6 per cent).

India lags behind its ASEAN peers in terms of economic participation – with a score of 41 per cent. And that score declined 3 percentage points from 2013. Female labour force participation in India is just 36 per cent – almost half the global average of 68 per cent. As a grave example, men in India earn on average $8,087 per year compared to just $1,980 for women. This places India at 114th on the global scale.

It is not surprising then women in India believe they are ‘worse-off’ compared with last year (although their male counterparts feel the same way to a lesser extent). In fact, for most countries, according to ANZ’s analysis of the report combined with the ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence Index – women feel less optimistic about the state of their national economy compared to men. The only exception to this is in Thailand, and even then the difference is marginal.

ASEAN countries are making headway in the right direction in closing the gender gap. A focus on economic participation in particular will bring significant benefits to local economies and confidence in the region.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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