Gender equality

Women missing out on benefits of labour market growth in Asia and the Pacific

The gap between male and female labour market participation rates remains high despite three decades of economic growth with South Asia home to the biggest differences.

Press release | Bangkok, Thailand | 27 October 2023
BANGKOK (ILO News) - Considerable gender gaps between male and female workers remain in Asia-Pacific labour markets where women are not benefitting as much as men from employment opportunities in growing sectors offering higher pay and better conditions according to a new report.

A joint report of the International Labour Organization and Asian Development Bank – Where women work in Asia and the Pacific: Implications for policies, equity and inclusive growth – examines trends over the past three decades in sectoral employment of men and women in the Asia and the Pacific region and discusses what these mean in the broader context of gender equality, inclusive growth and social justice.

It highlights how the gap in labour market participation rates between men and women, at close to 25 percentage points, remains above the global level. This is largely due to the high and persistent gap of almost 50 percentage points in the South Asia subregion.

Women continue to be concentrated in low value-added sectors such as agriculture and the retail trade – where decent work deficits are among the highest. The most dynamic sectors in the Asia and the Pacific region for job growth over the past three decades have almost all seen significantly more job gains for men than women. In the sector with the most dynamic growth – IT and other information services – only one in four jobs (25 per cent) went to women. Only in accommodations and food services activities did more than half of the job growth accrue to women.

Speaking about the findings, Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific said, “Structural transformation has been an important element behind the economic growth records of Asia and the Pacific. But, sadly, this pattern of growth has clearly not benefitted women as much as men. Greater efforts are needed to address this inequality and reduce the barriers that are preventing women from accessing jobs with higher decent work returns while improving conditions in the sectors where women are working now.”

The report highlights how significant differences exist in sectoral employment rates across Asia and the Pacific.  The agriculture sector employs 30 per cent of women workers in the Asia-Pacific region, but this figure rises to more than 57 per cent in the South Asia subregion – nearly three times the share in the East Asia subregion, and more than ten times the share in the Pacific subregion.

To address the inequalities, a comprehensive approach is required that sees measures taken to foster gender equality within the broader labour market – to make sure that growth works for everyone – such as gender-responsive fiscal policies, government spending and social protection measures.

The report also calls for dedicated efforts to remove the barriers that different groups of women face in pursuing occupations in non-traditional, higher-paying sectors and finally taking targeted action to improve working conditions in the sectors where women are concentrated, in agriculture and retail, for example.