Becoming more equal in East Asia Pacific by reducing the trade-offs between work and home

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Becoming more equal in East Asia Pacific by reducing the trade-offs between work and home The key to boosting women’s economic participation is reducing the trade-offs they have to make between their household and market roles.

No country can achieve its full potential without the equal participation of women and men. Yet worldwide, women still have only 75% of the legal rights of men. Holding back employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for half the population in this way limits the potential for economic growth and development.

A  new World Bank report — How Large Is the Gender Dividend? — estimates that gender inequality costs the East Asia Pacific Region (EAP) about US$40-$50 trillion in human capital wealth. This deficit is the difference in the lifelong earnings between men and women. Globally, human capital wealth could increase by about one-fifth if there were gender equality in earnings, and women’s human capital wealth would more than double.

To reap the gender dividend in EAP, countries must improve women’s access to jobs and business opportunities.

The EAP region is making good strides. Women, Business and the Law 2020, which tracks data on the laws and regulations that restrict women's economic opportunities, looks at reforms made from 2017-2019. In this period, Thailand introduced new legislation that mandates equal remuneration for men and women who perform work of equal value; the Philippines extended the duration of paid maternity leave from 60 to 105 days; Fiji introduced five days of paid paternity leave; and Timor-Leste explicitly accounted for periods of absence due to childcare in pension benefits, to mention a few remarkable steps.

But much more needs to be done. A key element of boosting women’s economic participation is reducing the trade-offs women are forced to make between their household and market roles, and this is one of five priority areas of our World Bank gender strategy in the East Asia Pacific region.  Affordable and reliable childcare is essential to reducing this trade-off. Developing options for affordable childcare has the potential to improve women’s access to good jobs and narrow the gender gap. This can be a win-win for employees and their families, employers, and economies. That’s why, among other things, we are starting a pilot project in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province to establish and operate 25 childcare centers for pre-school-aged children of garment sector workers. Kampong Speu has 116 garment factories and provides wage employment for over 112,000 workers, 84% of whom are women.

To help inform the policy choices countries make, we have been systematically analyzing women’s labor force participation.  For instance, in Indonesia, we examined the ways in which the lack of childcare constrains women’s labor force participation. Our findings show that urban women with access to childcare are able to return to the labor market two years earlier after childbirth, and that an additional public preschool per 1,000 children is associated with a 14% increase in the likelihood of employment.

Similarly, in Malaysia, our research found that between 2008 and 2015 for every pre-school that opened, an additional 89 women entered the labor force. In addition, through a rigorous analysis of the impacts of pre-school (age 1-5) childcare on women’s labor market outcomes in Vietnam, we found that not only does childcare have a strong effect on women’s labor market participation, it also increases their probability of working in a formal wage-earning job, which can improve their annual wages and overall household income.

Our gender work in Vietnam has helped lead to a transformation of the labor code from a gender biased one to a law that influences norms and promotes equal participation of men and women in the labor market. For example, the former code requires that the state and employers organize or build daycare facilities and kindergartens where a large number of women are employed or cover part of childcare expenses incurred by female employees. The code broadens this to include fathers and sons, stipulating that the state and employers shall develop plans and measures for day care and kindergartens in areas with large number of workers and that the state and employers shall assist and support in child care services for employees. It also reduces the pension age gap between men and women.

As we mark International Women’s Day 2020, we are sharing inspiring stories of pioneering women across the East Asia Pacific region who are breaking barriers and creating change for the decade ahead. One of these women is Shera Ann Bosco from Malaysia. A retired military officer, Shera is the co-founder of CARING MOMS, a platform that connects women to a network of individuals and corporations, providing them access to a wide range of opportunities, skills, and guidance and empowering them to be economically independent. It offers a safe environment for them to transact, learn, interact, and gain support to start-up and mature their businesses, and it serves as a source of income for many stay-at-home and single mothers, or women who are only able to work from home. Shera’s own challenges as a working mother in need of childcare for her son inspired her to start CARING MOMS.

I invite you to read her story and those of other inspiring women from across the region. Each of them is working, in their own way, toward #EachForEqual in the East Asia Pacific region.



Victoria Kwakwa

Vice President, Eastern and Southern Africa

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