May 202010

Excerpt from the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report: Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific

By the United Nations Development Programme 2010

The Asia-Pacific region has witnessed remarkable economic progress and rapid development in recent decades, yet gender inequality remains entrenched even through this era of change. The region lags behind on gender parity on multiple counts, despite progress on several other dimensions. While overall indicators for economic prosperity, educational attainments and access to healthcare have improved for the region’s population over the recent decades, gender gaps have not closed.

Moreover, the region has seen divergent trends towards gender equality—notably, while East Asia and the Pacific have made significant advances, South Asia’s progress on many counts has been slow. A girl born in South Asia today still has very different life chances compared to her counterpart in East Asia in terms of health status, educational attainments or employment opportunities. All countries face challenges—even those performing well on the income, health and education indicators. People, particularly women, continue to confront discrimination in jobs, disparities in power, voice and  political representation, and laws that are prejudicial on the basis of their gender. This Asia-Pacific Human Development Report (APHDR) interrogates how some countries in the region have succeeded in narrowing gender disparities more than others. It does this by engaging three arenas where public policy can make a difference by:

  •  Building economic power
  • Promoting political voice
  • Advancing legal rights

The Report engages these three areas to understand the persistence of gender inequalities in the public domain, and pinpointing barriers that hold people back from realizing their potential as equal members of society. This report is not a document embodying a Utopian wishlist – instead, it provides concrete interventions in three specific domains, where public policies have demonstrated their potential.

 The proposals are timely—we have a few years left to push for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and the recent global economic crises has forced policy makers to review what they consider conventional wisdom. Indeed, the global economic crisis and rapid development offers new opportunities to benefit both women and men, as governments search for economic growth drivers and seek to mobilize all available resources. Persistent gender inequality continues to deprive the region of a significant source of human potential, and remains a barrier to progress, justice and democracy.

 This Report comes at a time when the Asia-Pacific region is at crossroads. The global economic downturn, climate change and persistent crises in many countries threaten to further marginalize the vulnerable. In this context, gauging the overall picture of gender inequality in the region presents a picture largely skewed to the disadvantage of women.

The Asia-Pacific region as a whole, especially South Asia, ranks near the worst in the world—often lower than sub-Saharan Africa—on basic issues such as protecting women from violence or upholding their rights to property, as well as on indicators in such key areas as nutrition, health, education, employment and political participation.

Sub-regional disparities are striking. Overall, East Asia is pulling ahead of South Asia on progress toward gender equality. In the Pacific, a complex brew of customary laws, practices and constitutional provisions represents a key factor behind the subordinate tatus of women.

Thus, the failure to realize equality on the basis of gender translates into fewer choices, increased human poverty and lower human development for everyone—both men and women…

 Ajay Chhibber     
Assistant Secretary General and Assistant Administrator,
Director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP

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