Gender gap has widened in South Asia more than in any other region at a time when women's participation in the global labour force has increased, said the International Labour Organisation yesterday.
South Asia is comprised of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Less than one in three women in South Asia are active in the labour market, representing a female participation rate that is 51 percentage points less than the rate for males, said the ILO report titled “World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends for Women 2017”.
The gap has widened over the last decade, more than that in any other region,” the ILO said.
“At the global level, there have been some improvements in reducing gender gaps in labour force participation. Yet, this has been less apparent in Asia,” the report said.
East and South Asia stood out as the only two regions where female labour force participation rates have decreased over the past two decades and gender gaps have increased.
The gap is less worrisome in East Asia as the participation rate for women remains the second highest globally at 61.3 percent.
If the gender gap in participation rates can be reduced by 25 percent by 2025, as per the commitment made by the Group of Twenty leaders in 2014, $5.8 trillion dollars could potentially be added to the global economy.
Of the sum, $3.2 trillion would accrue to the Asia-Pacific region alone, it said.
The gap reduction target could also unlock large potential tax revenues -- an important consideration as the region adjusts to 'new normal' lower levels of economic growth, said Richard Horne, economist at the ILO's regional office for the Asia and the Pacific.
Besides the sizable economic benefits, engaging more women in the world of work would have major impacts on wellbeing, said Horne, co-author of the report.
In South Asia, women are significantly less likely than men to participate in the labour market, and those who do look for work are less likely than men to find it.
“What's more, women in the region work in jobs that tend to be both of lower quality and lower pay than that of their male counterparts.”
About 80 percent of the women polled in East Asia and Southeast Asia and the Pacific said they would rather be working in a paid job than solely staying at home.
Yet at the same time, around 40 percent of working-age women in the regions are not in the labour market, suggesting that major obstacles continue to exist that prevent women from fully engaging in paid work.
The obstacles that prevent women from joining the workforce are still too firmly rooted in the region, said Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO's assistant director general and regional director for Asia and the Pacific. “We need to improve family-friendly work policies and have better care options for women to be able to take part in the labour market,” he added.
Over 20 percent of female respondents in the Asia-Pacific region cited 'work/family balance' as a major challenge to labour participation. About 22 percent of the respondents in East Asia -- more than any other region -- cited “lack of affordable care” as a challenge faced by women.
The report advocates for a comprehensive approach to improve women's labour market situation by challenging the social norms and socio-economic constraints that hold women back, including issues related to discrimination, education, unpaid care work, work-family balance and marital status. In particular, reshaping gender role conformity will be imperative for improving equality in labour market conditions.