Women’s Progress in Employment and Leadership Stall in Asia Pacific

March 8, 20163:34 pm839 views

Despite more women than men in Asia Pacific having tertiary education, there still exists a large gender gap that hinders women from achieving their full economic potential be it through participation in the workforce or presence in leadership positions, according to the latest MasterCard Index of Women’s Advancement being released in the lead-up to International Women’s Day.

MasterCard Index of Women Advancement

In 12 out of 18 Asia Pacific markets, women outnumber men in university education gross enrolment rate, with New Zealand (141.8), Australia (137.5) and Thailand (134.5) taking the top spots. Significant progress has been made in Indonesia with enrolment in advanced education having grown from 87.2 in 2007 to 105.1 in 2016.

However, educational attainment is not translating into workforce participation in many markets. More women than men are entering university in New Zealand, China and the Philippines, but women are still much less likely to be in the workforce.

Overall New Zealand ranked first (78.0), followed by Australia (76.0) and the Philippines (71.4). At the other end of spectrum, Japan (49.5), Bangladesh (45.5), Sri Lanka (44.3), India (38.0) and Pakistan (23.4) had Index scores indicating that much more can be done to achieve gender parity.

The Index measures the socioeconomic standing of women across 18 Asia Pacific markets and is comprised of three main indicators which are derived from additional sub- indicators: Capability (Secondary Education, Tertiary Education), Employment (Workforce Participation, Regular Employment) and Leadership (Business Owners, Business Leaders, Political leaders). The scores above show the proportion of women to every 100 men. A score of 100 indicates equality between the sexes.

“Gender gaps in access to education have narrowed over the years, but we still have a long way to go before women across Asia Pacific are equally represented in business and politics. The lack of critical mass in women’s representation and participation in the economy – coupled with the inadequate and inconsistent implementation of equality legislation – continues to be the biggest challenge for women and is reflected across all markets irrespective of the pace of economic development,” said Georgette Tan, Group Head, Communications, Asia Pacific, MasterCard.

“Access is crucial to integrating female talent in the economy as women still don’t have the same access to job opportunities or even social networks as men. A range of factors impacting the economic contributions made by women in the workforce also need to be addressed including country-specific socio-cultural factors, traditional beliefs, and government policies. Closing the gender equality gap and leveling the employment playing field would benefit not just women, but the global economy as a whole.”

For the tenth consecutive year, New Zealand (78.0), Australia (76.0) and the Philippines (71.4) continue to have the highest overall Index scores.

Apart from the top three markets and Singapore (70.0), all other markets in Asia Pacific had scores below the 70-point mark with Japan (49.5) and four South Asia markets – Bangladesh (45.5), Sri


Lanka (44.3), India (38.0) and Pakistan (23.4) – among the lowest and only markets scoring below 50 points.

Compared to the previous year, women in New Zealand made the most progress overall (78.0, up 0.7 points), followed by Japan (49.5, up 0.5 points), Nepal (62.5, up 0.5 points) and Bangladesh (45.5, up 0.4 points), while declines were recorded in Sri Lanka (44.3, down 0.7 points), Malaysia (52.7, down 0.4 points) which reached the lowest it has in five years, and also in China (66.3, down 0.2 points).

Of the three components, capability remains the strongest indicator of Asia Pacific women’s advancement towards gender parity for the tenth consecutive year with seven markets scoring 100 points (New Zealand, Philippines, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal).

With the exception of South Korea (86.6), the Capability index scores for all markets in the region are above 90.0. Women in New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines and Taiwan have consistently been on par or better represented in secondary and tertiary institutions than their male counterparts since 2007.

Indonesia (99.1) and Hong Kong (98.5) continue to make positive steps towards greater educational attainment with their scores edging closer to parity. On the other hand, women in Pakistan (86.2), South Korea (86.6) and Bangladesh (89.3) have much fewer opportunities than men when it comes to secondary and tertiary education.

Women’s progress in Employment remains broadly stagnant across Asia Pacific.

Of the 18 Asia Pacific markets, New Zealand (91.4), Australia (91.0) and Taiwan (90.7) continue to be the most economically active with highest access to regular formal employment. They are the closest to being on par with their respective male cohorts in terms of Workforce Participation and Regular Employment.

With the exception of Malaysia, women in developing markets such as Vietnam (90.2), China (83.2) and Thailand (80.4) are more likely to be working (formal or informal) than women in the advanced economies of Japan (69.6) and Korea (69.2).

The low Employment scores for Japan and Korea suggest that the cultural bias against women working is fairly strong in these societies. However, this trend is anticipated to gradually change in the coming years with the governments in both markets taking steps to raise the level of women’s participation in the workforce.

Leadership Remains the Weakest Component in Women’s Progress towards Gender Parity

New Zealand (51.9) and Australia (50.2) are the only two markets with more than 50 women business owners/ business leaders/ government leaders for every 100 male business owners/ business leaders/ government leaders. The Philippines is not far behind at 47.2 points.

New Zealand saw the biggest increase in score from a year ago (51.9, up 1.3 points) while China (34.7), Malaysia (19.8) and Sri Lanka (13.1) recorded declines of 0.1, 0.6 and 0.7 points, respectively.

Of the 18 Asia Pacific markets, women in Malaysia (19.8), Korea (19.5), Bangladesh (17.2), Japan (15.2), Sri Lanka (13.1), India (12.2) and Pakistan (3.5) continue to face tremendous hurdles in making progress in leadership in the business and political spheres.

Notably, the Philippines (90.9) scores significantly higher than all other Asia Pacific markets for business leadership, with New Zealand (66.4) and Australia (56.9) trailing behind.

Business ownership is the highest among Nepalese women (72.5), followed by Australia (50.7) – these are the only two markets with more than 50 women business owners for every 100 male business owners.

In conclusion

With disappointment that women in the developing markets of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia continue to face tremendous challenges in translating their knowledge assets into economic and financial empowerment due to their inability to secure regular employment in the formal sectors.

In contrast, women in developed economies such as Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong have greater opportunities for regular work due to the more comprehensive and consistent enforcement of workplace policies and employee protection legislative laws in their local environments.

Labor shortage crisis in Japan and Korea brings to light the possibility of a gradual reversal in the trend of low female workforce participation, as working fathers increasingly take up or share the role of childbearing so their wives may join/return to the work force.


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