Challenges in Asia and the Pacific

 Girls on their way to Datu Dani Elementary School in Kiamba, Sarangani province to attend a summer class reading program. This program was initiated by the Provincial Government and aims to reduce non-readers in the province. Photo credit: Leonardo Sexcion/UNDP Picture This

While we have seen significant progress made in Asia and the Pacific in a number of areas recently, particularly the enrolment of girls in school and in life expectancy, the region continues to lag behind the progress being made in women’s empowerment and gender equality globally. Asia and the Pacific has one of the world’s worst gender gaps, ranking 5th out of 6 regions on a combination of indicators covering economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. It is the worst region in the world for women’s health and survival relative to that of men.

  • Women make up two-thirds of the region’s poor, and poverty is continuing to rise among women
  • More women than ever are 'disappearing'
  • Few countries have laws prohibiting violence against women
  • Lack of education and paid work for women is depressing economic growth

The persistent gender inequalities that exist in the Asia-Pacific region are particularly troubling in that the region is making significant progress in terms of economic growth. Gains are being sustained for economic goals, but not for those goals relating to gender equality. Discrimination and neglect are threatening women’s very survival in the region.

Gender equality is a right, is moral, is good economics, is strategic, and deepens democracy and true social stability.


Facts and figures


  • Barriers to political participation: While the rate of female parliamentarians in Asia lags behind the world average, the Pacific (excluding Australia and New Zealand) has the lowest rate in the world.  As of 1 July 2013 not a single women’s representative sits in the parliaments of Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia. (Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union)
  • Barriers to economic opportunities: The majority of women in the region —and up to 85 percent in South Asia― are in “vulnerable” employment, such in the informal economy or low end self-employment, far above the global average of 53 per cent.
  • Legal barriers: More than half the countries in South Asia favour men in land inheritance laws, compared to 1 out of 3 in East Asia.
  • Literacy: Half of all South Asian women can’t read.
  • Gender Based Violence: The Pacific region has some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world.
  • Missing women: The preference for male children has led to Asia-Pacific having the highest male-female sex ration at birth in the world and an estimated 96 million ‘missing’ women.


How we address the challenges

 Women participating in a community meeting at a health center in India. Photo credit: Divya Kanchanbaras/UNDP Picture This

UNDP supports efforts to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment into all focus areas and recognizes its importance as a means to achieve all Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). To do this we focus our regional efforts on the following key priority areas:

Reducing poverty, empowering women economically, and ensuring gender responsive development planning
Our support for building capacity for gender responsive economic policy and planning is focused through the Gender and Economic Policy Management Initiative, and has seen development of a short course for policy makers tailored to Asia and the Pacific, with in depth modules on issues such as gender statistics, measuring unpaid work, labour and employment, and macroeconomic strategies and policies. Gender analysis has also been conducted on economic empowerment issues in order to identify the barriers to women’s economic empowerment in the region.

Increasing women’s political participation
In addressing the low rates of female parliamentary representation in Asia and the Pacific, UNDP supports advocacy work and provides technical advice to increase participation of women in decision-making bodies. Policy guidance is also developed and implemented at national level, as outlined in our publicationGender Equality in Elected Office in Asia Pacific: Six Actions to Expand Women’s Empowerment. Our status report Women's Representation in Local Government in Asia-Pacific: Status Report 2010 forms a baseline measure of women’s representation in local government in Asia-Pacific on a country by country basis.

Promoting access to justice and addressing gender based violence
We support law reform and work with UN Women and other organizations to advance legal rights and gender equality throughout the region. The UNDP joint programme, Partners for Prevention, focuses on preventing gender based violence through research on and working with men and boys.

Engendering HIV and AIDS prevention and response
UNDP works to assist countries to implement HIV responses that promote human rights and gender equality. A report on Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific was published in 2012, offering a description of the legal environments, human rights and HIV responses among sex workers in 48 countries within the region.

Addressing women’s vulnerability to disasters and conflict and ensuring they are included in early recovery programmes
UNDP supports regional initiatives to both address women’s vulnerability to disasters and to strengthen capacities for gendered approaches to peacebuilding. In 2012 we launched a guide that helps makes visible the impacts of disasters on the lives of women and men living in small island countries. In the Pacific, with the Global Gender and Climate Change Alliance, UNDP has been leading efforts to integrate gender into climate change policy and analysis.

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