World Economic Forum on East Asia 2012

  • Asian Women as the Way Forward

    Friday 1st June 2012 - 11:00am - 12:15pm

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  • How can the political and economic empowerment of women contribute to the long-term growth of East Asian economies?

    Dimensions to be addressed:

    • Investing in women's skills and talents
    • The role of women in the regional and global supply chain
    • Developing the political and economic leadership of women

    Key Points

    • Promoting economic development alone is not enough to reduce the gender gap in East Asia; instead, broader cultural changes are needed
    • In many countries, there are stark asymmetries between the productive involvement of women in the economy and the lack of inclusion in politics; both are needed for meaningful empowerment
    • Closing the gender gap requires educating boys and men about the productive role that women can play
    • Microfinance programmes and policies that improve women’s access to capital can allow women to take on more visible leadership roles in business and society, which can help change cultures
    • Specialized “jumpstart” initiatives that promote women – from affirmative action in education to political quotas in parliaments – can help to reduce the region’s persisting gender gap


    Despite a strong record of economic growth in recent years, East Asia still lags as a region in terms of gender equality. Greater economic development is not enough to empower women in the region; in fact, some of the region’s most prosperous nations still have high gender inequality. Narrowing this gap requires changing cultures, not just economies, so that societies recognize the contributions that women can make – and want to make – in the region.

    “Why are we not allowed to contribute? I think that women can contribute in every way, but we are not allowed to,” noted Aung San Suu Kyi,

    Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD); Member of Parliament of Kawhmu Constituent, Myanmar. “It’s not economic development that brings about a narrowing of the gap. It’s obviously cultural values. And I think these are what we have to address if we want to find out why we are not allowed to make the contributions of which we are capable.”

    In Myanmar, for example, women play a visible and vital role in the nation’s economy; however, this inclusion is not extended to politics. Politics remains a realm in which discrimination persists and women are often reluctant to seek leadership roles.

    Improving the situation for women throughout the region involves building on past successes, such as microfinance programmes that have elevated the status of women in Bangladesh. But these efforts cannot come at the exclusion of men. “If we don’t engage boys and men, then, on the one hand, we may have changed the way a girl feels about herself, but we haven’t changed the other side of the equation,” explained Helene D. Gayle, President and Chief Executive Officer, CARE USA. Meaningful empowerment of women requires educating entire families about the value of encouraging daughters to stay in school.

    Numerous studies have shown that empowering women can have a multiplier effect on communities – improving health, raising literacy rates and reducing extreme poverty to a greater extent than conventional development initiatives. In Bangladesh, for example, such programmes have helped shift cultural norms in many parts of the nation such that women’s contributions to the economy are well recognized and barriers to accessing capital have been significantly reduced.

    Given the persisting gender gap in the region, initiatives to “jumpstart” women’s inclusion are essential. Specialized programmes – such as political quotas for women in parliaments, affirmative action in education and incentives to encourage families to keep their daughters in school – can make great strides towards changing cultures and reducing gender inequality.

    Other Key Takeaways

    • Equality under the law is important, but it is often not enough to empower women to become political leaders. Political parties can play a more active role in seeking and promoting women candidates.
    • International companies can play a productive role by investing not just in hard infrastructure, but also in education and soft skills to train workers – and women in particular – to develop technical skills and take on leadership roles.
    • Technology – from mobile telephony to social networking – will not solve the gender gap, but can make significant contributions by increasing women’s access to information. The Grameen phone in Bangladesh, for example, helped transform the role of women in many villages.


  • Helene D. Gayle Helene D. Gayle
    President and Chief Executive Officer, CARE USA, USA

    BA in Psychology, Barnard College; MD, University of Pennsylvania; MPH, Johns Hopkins University. Ex...

  • Jon Fredrik Baksaas Jon Fredrik Baksaas
    President and Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Group, Norway

    MSc in Business Administration, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen; s...

  • Rokia Afzal Rahman Rokia Afzal Rahman

  • Daw  Aung San Suu Kyi Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
    Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD); Member of Parliament from Kawhmu Constituency, Myanmar

    Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Oxford University, United Kingdom. Research Assistant...

Chaired by

  • Andrew Stevens Andrew Stevens
    Anchor and Correspondent, CNN International, Hong Kong SAR

    Formerly: Correspondent, Australian Financial Review; six years as Economics Editor, Press Associati...