By Kris M. Crismundo
14 March 2017 | Manila
An inclusive, innovation-led growth is one of the thematic priorities of the country’s ASEAN chairmanship this year.
This initiative aims for increasing participation of women in the region’s economic activities driven by science, technology, and innovation.
In line with the ASEAN hosting, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), DTI SlingshotPH, Women’s Business Council Philippines, Inc. (WomenBizPH), and ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs’ Network (AWEN) organized the STEAM Ahead in ASEAN: A Forum on Women in Technology in Pasay City from March 16 to 17.
“It aims to bring together various technology-driven enterprises to give women more insights about opportunities in careers centered on technology and innovation,” said DTI Undersecretary Nora Terrado.
Terrado noted that that women who pursue careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) are highly likely to earn 30% more income than in non-STEAM careers.
The status quo
The Projected Gender Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community, a study published by the ASEAN Secretariat in 2016, has noted that gender inequality remains a challenge in the region, particularly in education, labor force participation, and trade-oriented activities, among others.
The same study shows that these challenges in gender gap expose women in lower paying jobs and vulnerable sectors with limited access to benefits and social protection.
Across all ASEAN member states, average gender gap in labor force is at 19 percent, which is reflective of gap in labor force participation between man and women as well as inadequate and unequal access of women to economic opportunities and work conditions favorable to woman.
Lao PDR led ASEAN in narrowing gender gap in labor force participation at 3.0 percent, while Indonesia recorded widest gap at 33 percent.
In 2013, highest female share to total employment were in Laos and Cambodia at 50 percent, and Vietnam at 49 percent.
In contrast, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia had the least share of women in total employment at 37 percent, 38 percent, and 39 percent, respectively.
In terms of gender wage gaps, it ranges from a high of 12.1 percent in Singapore and as low as 1.0 percent in Brunei Darussalam.
“One possible explanation for the relatively large gender wage gap in a number of countries is that a large number of women are wage workers (contractual) and are more affected by minimum wage laws,” the ASEAN study said.
“Most of the job growth for women in the region has taken place in sectors that is dominated by wage work (such as garments and agriculture), where compliance with minimum wage legislation has been a challenge,” it added.
Across ASEAN member states, 63 percent of women in the labor force were in vulnerable employment, or those which are difficult to be transformed from informal to formal employment.
In terms of women participation in business and private sector, firms with female participation in ownership of manufacturing businesses is highest in the Philippines at 66 percent, followed by Vietnam at 55.7 percent, Indonesia at 43.4 percent, Lao PDR at 32.1 percent, Myanmar at 24 percent, and Malaysia at 13.1 percent.
Female participation in ownership in services companies, is also high in the Philippines at 70.5 percent, followed by Vietnam at 61.4 percent, Lao PDR at 47.1 percent, Indonesia at 39.9 percent, and Myanmar at 28.7 percent.
The study also reveals that access to finance remains a challenge to ASEAN member states.
Less than a third of women in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam have their own bank accounts.
An average of 16 percent of women in ASEAN borrowed from financial institution.
“From a business skills perspective, the socio-cultural environment limits women’s exposure and skill development opportunity resulting in limited business sense, information, and marketing skills,” the ASEAN study noted.
“Women businesses also lack networks and technology that are essential for moving beyond the small scale level,” it added.
ASEAN’s role on gender equality
The ASEAN has been supportive in advancing the status of women in the region.
In fact, gender equality and women’s empowerment is part of integral principles in the ASEAN community’s building process.
In the Joint Statement of the 2nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Women in Manila in October 2015, it noted that “realizing these principles requires the commitment of all ASEAN Member States, sectoral bodies under the three pillars of ASEAN, and stakeholders including civil society, academia, media and private sectors”.
On the other hand, the AWEN has created a regional forum for women entrepreneurs in ASEAN.
It aims to provide a platform for sharing of information, knowledge, and experience; assisting women entrepreneurs to improve their business management and skills; supporting better access to finance, science and technology, trainings, markets, and business opportunities; promoting entrepreneurship to ASEAN women; and integrating women entrepreneurs to international and regional networks. (PNA)