How Public-Private Partnerships Can Promote Gender Equality and Inclusive Growth

Women need a greater role in development of infrastructure. Photo: ADB
Women need a greater role in development of infrastructure. Photo: ADB

By Ichiro Aoki, Prabhjot R. Khan, Radhika Behuria

As developing countries in Asia and the Pacific rebound from the pandemic, public-private partnerships can be an important tool to expand opportunities and improve quality of life, especially for women and girls.

 Women make up half of the world’s population but are not equal beneficiaries of progress. Despite advances in areas like education, gender gaps remain in almost all sectors from healthcare, labor force engagement, political participation to economic empowerment.

This is also true for infrastructure development. Theoretically, women should make up half the users and workforce of the infrastructure sector. However, gender disparities often are not acknowledged or well understood, and therefore gender considerations are not adequately integrated into the design of infrastructure. This, limits women’s access to and use of infrastructure and the services it provides.

 As we try to close a huge infrastructure gap in Asia and the Pacific, we must integrate gender considerations across all stages of the infrastructure development cycle. This is particularly important in the context of post-pandemic economic recovery for Asia’s developing countries.

Physical infrastructure has a critical role to play in supporting post-pandemic recovery and in laying the foundation for a more resilient and inclusive future. It also has the potential to contribute to various broader development objectives such as employment and human capital, and in reducing inequality.

Even pre-pandemic, Asia and the Pacific had a huge infrastructure gap that required new investment of $1.7 trillion a year. This demand has further increased and cannot be financed by the public sector alone. Procurement through public-private partnerships is one important option that can help address this stark gap.   

Public-private partnerships can help facilitate the mobilization of private capital to meet costs and introduce modern technology, expertise and operational efficiency that are hallmarks of the private sector. But they can do more, by leveraging the role of government to provide much needed public infrastructure projects.

The future of infrastructure in Asia and the Pacific hinges on gender-inclusive public-private partnerships.

These vital partnerships can also expand opportunities and improve quality of life especially for women and girls who historically do not benefit equally from infrastructure and its services or have an equal voice in infrastructure design.

To unlock this potential,  greater awareness is needed among public-private partnership practitioners to identify barriers that women and girls face. Additionally, there needs to be a much greater acknowledgement of women and girls as key stakeholders and users of infrastructure, thereby ensuring that their perspectives inform issues of access, location, and affordability - all relevant to the success of these projects.

Thus, while there are strong social and moral reasons for focusing on gender equality, there is also a strong economic and business case for bringing in a gender perspective to improve the overall usability of infrastructure and its services over the lifecycle of a project.   

All involved stakeholders must play their part. The public sector should be in the driver’s seat to establish a robust framework to identify gender gaps, develop relevant strategies in response, and create legal mandates for organizations and entities.

On the other hand, the private sector is well positioned to bring in knowledge and expertise that can promote women’s access to services and employment opportunities through the design of infrastructure that is responsive to the needs of both men and women.

Finally, multilateral development banks can provide tools, leverage global experience and advice to align public and private interests and set standards for gender-sensitive market interventions. Partnership is key to the notion of public-private partnerships. It is an equally important element in promoting gender equality.   

 The future of infrastructure in Asia and the Pacific hinges on gender-inclusive public-private partnerships. By embedding gender considerations into every stage of infrastructure development, we not only champion fairness but also enhance economic efficiency and social impact.