A New Day for Women and Girls in Asia and the Pacific

Girls today have role models and advantages not enjoyed by previous generations, but major challenges remain. Photo: Mi Pham
Girls today have role models and advantages not enjoyed by previous generations, but major challenges remain. Photo: Mi Pham

By Sonomi Tanaka, Zonibel Woods

Girls and women today have far more opportunities and role models than their mothers and grandmothers, but there is much more to be done.

We have come a long way in promoting gender equality.  A girl born today in Asia and the Pacific will come into a world that is very different from that of her counterpart 25 years ago.

She is more likely to survive past her fifth birthday; complete her education before marriage; enter the labor force in areas traditionally considered men’s domain; decide if and when she will be married, and if she chooses to have children, the timing and spacing of those pregnancies.

A girl born today has an increasing number of women role models in politics, the judiciary, science and technology, and in business. She stands on the shoulders of those who broke barriers sometimes at great personal cost. Women like Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan who defends girls’ right to education; Sri Mulyani of Indonesia, who is a globally respected political leader; and Nisha Ayub of Malaysia, who is working for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) communities, and helping create more tolerant societies regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Girls today also look for role models among their mothers. Studies show that adults that are raised by employed mothers are more likely to be employed themselves and to support shared responsibilities between men and women.

A girl born today is more likely than 25 years ago to be protected by laws, like the 2017 Law to Combat Domestic Violence in Mongolia which, for the first time, recognized domestic violence as a criminal offence. 

A girl born today in the region will likely have more opportunities than 25 years ago, but she is still being born in a deeply unequal and patriarchal world. Progress in gender equality has been slow, uneven among different groups of women and within countries, and what headway has been made remains fragile and even at risk of being eroded. In developing countries in Asia women’s participation in the labor force has declined from 55% in 1995 to 50% in 2018, despite significant economic growth, declining fertility rates, and improved female education. Women continue to be overrepresented among the informal sector and unpaid family work.

  A girl born today in Asia and will come into a very different world than her mother.

Women’s participation in decision-making in the region remains low. The regional average of women parliamentarians in Asia and the Pacific is 19.8%, below the global average of 24.1% with the Pacific trailing the Arab region.  

So, what would the future hold for a girl born today? The answer lies with each one of us. Gender equality is everyone’s business. Twenty-five years after the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, we should no longer accept gender equality agenda compartmentalized to the poorly-budgeted gender focal agencies in the governments or grassroots women’s groups. It is an issue for all policymakers and line ministries and local and community governance structures.  It is encouraging to see that increasing number of private companies and investors started looking into gender equality as part of fair business standards. 

We need to make sure that the commitments made to gender equality are delivered in creative and transformative ways, with everyone involved to take gender agenda seriously. Initiatives that promote gender through trade finance partnerships,  working with communities to tackle violence against women in Nepal, supporting women entrepreneurs in Uzbekistan, or breaking gender segregation in technical education in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, could be among such examples.

This is the time to reignite the energy and vision of our commitment to working together for the future of women and girls.

The 2020 theme for International Women’s Day is “I am generation equality: Realizing women’s rights”. It celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Actions, a global roadmap for gender equality.