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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    26 June 2012

WB: Gender equality crucial for growth in East Asia

19-June -2012

The World Bank has urged Thai and other governments in East Asia and the Pacific to address remaining gender gaps, as women are at disadvantage in terms of access to economic opportunity and having a voice and influence in society.

East Asia and the Pacific have experienced faster growth and poverty reduction than any other region. This growth and development have contributed to narrowing of gender gaps in several areas, said Andrew Mason, lead author of a report titled "Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific" released in Bangkok.

"Gender gaps in education and health have been closing, but important gender disparities remain in access to economic opportunity and in voice and influence in society," he told a news conference.

The report found that across the region women still own less land, earn less than men for similar work and have weaker access to productive inputs such as credit and machinery, Mason said.

For example, in Thailand, "women earn about 80 per cent of what men earn for similar jobs", he said.

Female labour-force participation is relatively high in the region; roughly 70 per cent of women in East Asia and the Pacific participate in economic activities, higher than in any other region.

For Thailand, "the issue is not labour participation per se but remuneration", he said.

He stated that gender equality was an important development objective in its own right but was also good for overall development.

"If societies in the region were to allocate resources on the basis of people's skills and abilities rather than by their gender, per-worker productivity could be increased by as much as 7-18 per cent, with important implications for growth and poverty reduction," he said.

The report found that the region had the highest ratio of female-to-male enrolment at the primary-school level of all developing regions; at the secondary level, only the Latin America and Caribbean region performed better.

In Thailand, female enrolment in universities exceeds men's but they study in traditional areas, such as education, health, art, humanity and history; few study engineering or science subjects, Mason said. He suggested that the Thai government provide incentives for females to study science or non-traditional areas, as the US government does.

Women usually face household task such as taking care of children - across the region, about 70-80 per cent, on average. Female workers are more likely than men to work as unpaid family labour or in the informal sector, Mason said.

To free woman from household tasks, the government could provide childcare subsidies as the governments of Mexico and Brazil do, suggested Mason, and adding that doing so was a matter of political will.

Female representation in the Thai Parliament is 16 per cent, lower than the regional average of 18 per cent and the global average of 19 per cent, he said.
The study found that when more women participate in policy-making, decisions better reflect both women's and men's preferences. Recent evidence shows that greater female participation in government improves provision of public goods and strengthens natural-resources management at the local level, Mason said.

Promoting gender equality in access to resources, economic opportunities and voice is also an investment in the next generation, said the report.

Mason added: "Healthier, better-educated mothers have healthier, better-educated children; greater female earnings and assets are also associated with greater investment in children. The effects begin before childbirth and are long-lasting, contribution to improved economic prospects for the next generation."

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