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Breaking the Cycle by 2030: Progress towards equality in Asia Pacific

Anna Town • 03/03/2020

As we enter a new decade in the lead up to International Women’s Day, I have been reflecting on the progress made in the area of gender equality over the past 10 years.

Looking across the Asia Pacific region I call home, over the past decade we have seen significant achievements made in the pursuit of equality. We’ve seen real progress in female economic empowerment, in education opportunities for both girls and women, and the strengthening of gender equality in national governments and governance. We’ve also seen steps to address violence against women and girls, although recent events suggest not enough, and the promotion of leadership of women in business.

Is this enough achievement for a decade? Whilst I am jubilant about what has been accomplished, I would argue we still have a long way to go.

The World Economic Forum releases their ‘Global Gender Gap Index’ each year and you might be shocked by which countries top the charts. Looking specifically at Asia Pacific, in 2019 first place was held by New Zealand (no surprises there) but the top five was rounded out by the Philippines, Laos, Australia and Bangladesh. Singapore made the most significant progress in 2019, due to improvements in economic participation and opportunity, as well as educational attainment. Singapore sits just outside the top 5 in Asia Pacific at #6 however, is well down the global rankings at #54.

Let’s take women in business. Across Australia’s top 200 publicly listed companies, less than 6% have a female CEO. Looking at the same statistic a different way, 94% of CEOS of Australia’s most influential companies are male. And infact, there are more male CEOs named Andrew or Michael than there are female CEOS in total, no matter what their name.

In India, estimates are that around 3% of companies listed on the National Stock Exchange have female CEOs or Managing Directors, as has been the case since 2014. In 2019, Singapore tied with Italy in the top global spot for female CEOs at 15%. A long way from equal.

Education potentially has the best scorecard from the past decade, with female university graduates outnumbering males in Australia (at 58%) and moving close to 50% in many countries across Asia Pacific. However, there are some pretty sobering statistics worth mentioning. Over two thirds of the world’s illiterate population are women - that is 496 million women. 31 million girls of primary school age are not in school which as a mother of a 10-year old daughter breaks my heart. Looking in our backyard, South Asia has the largest gap between adult male and female literacy.

Education and literacy are key to women’s empowerment, economic and social equality, so this International Women’s Day in the spirit of #EachforEqual, we are working with the Asia Foundation to deliver books to those most in need.

The Books for Asia program helps remove some of the barriers to education faced by girls and women. Annually the program places over a million books into the hands of those that needs them across 18 Asian countries. 2020 kicks off the 10-year countdown to achieve the UN sustainable development goals, which includes a commitment to end gender inequality by 2030, as we enter this new decade, I remain optimistic. Hopeful that as I gather my thoughts and when I sit to pen whatever the 2030 equivalent of a blog will be, that the story we tell will be different, and we will live in a world that truly is #EachforEqual.

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