Despite Asia’s gains in gender equality and women’s empowerment in the past decades, inequalities still exist and progress has been uneven. Maternal mortality rates and life expectancy of women have improved significantly over the past 50 years, and education gender gaps have been reduced if not reversed even in certain countries. The Asia Pacific is the only global region with a declining labor force participation of women; however, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women in Asia work the longest hours in the world when their paid and unpaid work is combined. Women remain concentrated in the informal economy (60%) and in vulnerable jobs; with digital transformation of the economy, women’s jobs are at greater risk of being eliminated. Women’s wages are equivalent to only 77% of men’s wages, with huge variations across countries and sectors. A key challenge to gender equality is the persistence of discriminatory social norms, which drives harmful practices such as early marriage. Rates of gender-based violence remain very high, with 60% of women in certain countries reporting some form of intimate partner violence.
ADB is committed to closing gender equality gaps in the region and supporting women’s empowerment. Accelerating progress in gender equality is Operational Priority 2 of Strategy 2030. Under Strategy 2030, ADB committed to ensuring that at least 75% of ADB’s operations at entry promote gender equality by 2030.
All the gender mainstreamed projects approved in 2019 have built-in gender action plans (GAPs). The GAPs set targets and activities to promote women’s socio-economic empowerment or the reduction of gender gaps. Among these projects is the second largest ADB infrastructure project to date, the $6.14 billion Philippines: Malolos-Clark Railway Project cofinanced with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to improve connectivity of regions and markets in northern Philippines and connect the country’s capital to Clark International Airport. Among the project’s gender equality elements include integrating into the stations to be constructed design features that make them friendly to, and safe for, elderly people, women, children, and people with disabilities; ensuring that the almost 2,800 women affected by the project would be equipped with livelihood skills, and building the capacity of the Department of Transportation’s staff, 50% of whom are women, in project and contract management. Other projects include the $477.86 million People’s Republic of China: Shandong Green Development Fund Project, cofinanced with KfW and Agence Française de Développement, to spur climate investments to help reduce carbon emissions and directly build resilience for at least 2 million people in Shandong Province; and the $368.1 million Tajikistan: Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Corridors 2, 3, and 5 (Obigarm-Nurobod) Road Project, cofinanced with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, and the OPEC Fund for International Development, to improve connectivity and trade in Central Asia and provide isolated local communities with access to jobs, markets, and social services such as education and health.
Many bilateral partners of ADB also prioritize gender equality in their development agenda, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, and Norway, that are among the contributors of ADB’s Gender and Development Cooperation Fund (GDCF). Established in 2003 and now in operation for over 16 years, the GDCF has supported regional technical assistance and grant-funded project components that push the gender equality agenda forward. As of 31 December 2019, the GDCF’s total committed contributions is at $12.6 million.
Women’s Economic Empowerment
Women are still at a disadvantage in accessing financial resources for livelihood and other paid work. In 2019, ADB accessed the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), a global trust fund managed by the World Bank, for cofinancing of $12.5 million for the Sri Lanka: Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Line of Credit Project. Thanks to this grant, 10 partner financial institutions were incentivized to on-lend to women-led/owned businesses: over 350 have accessed much-needed credit to start or grow their businesses. This was accompanied by gender gap assessments of the partnering banks and government agencies to foster a more gender-responsive policy environment for female entrepreneurs, and business skills and mentoring programs for women entrepreneurs.
ADB was awarded a further $20.2 million from We-Fi to finance the Women Accelerating Vibrant Enterprises in Southeast Asia and the Pacific (WAVES) program, which aims to support over 1000 women-led/owned SMEs to start or grow their businesses and access other financial and training opportunities in Viet Nam and the Pacific.
Gender Equality in Human Development
Entrepreneurial women in Sri Lanka are getting access to credit lines in local banks through a financing partnership between ADB, We-Fi, and JFPR.
ADB and its partners continue to support its developing member countries in fostering a gender-responsive environment conducive to human development. The Indonesia: Impact of Adolescent Nutrition Support on Development Outcomes, supported by a $2 million grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR), will develop nutrition-enhancing programs and policies targeting adolescent girls and young women.
The People’s Republic of China Poverty Reduction and Regional Cooperation Fund provided an $800,000 grant for the Papua New Guinea: Water Supply Scheme for Tete Settlement project, which will address poor access to safe water in Tete settlement in Port Moresby. Among the targets of the project’s gender action plan are establishing water connections to provide water access to 100% of female-headed households, women’s active participation in meetings and consultations in preparing a community-managed water supply scheme model, and an end-line survey to evaluate the project impact that will include gender equality indicators.
To help tackle gender-based violence, in 2019, the JFPR contributed $3 million for the Mongolia: Combating Domestic Violence Against Women and Children Project that would provide a multi-disciplinary response and livelihood assistance services to domestic violence survivors. The project is expected to contribute to gender and social equality in Mongolia as laid out in the National Program on Gender Equality 2017-2021.
Gender Equality in Decision-Making and Leadership
In 2019, the GDCF supported the outreach of the Asia Women Leaders Program in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to provide leadership training opportunities to senior women government officials. The program aims to address significant gaps in women’s leadership in Asia and the Pacific. The Future Cities Future Women Initiatives, a GDCF-supported technical assistance, was also completed. The initiative aimed to provide innovative gender inclusive mechanisms integrated into inclusive, livable, and safe city management in three pilot cities: Bandung in Indonesia, Tbilisi in Georgia, and Mandalay in Myanmar.
JFPR also provided a $500,000 grant for the Mongolia: Moving Gender Equality Forward through Civil Society Engagement to help civil society organizations implement gender equality programs at national, sector, and local levels. About 15 local women’s NGOs will be selected to participate in the project’s implementation.
Reduced Time Poverty of Women
The unequal distribution of unpaid care and domestic work within the household represents an important barrier to women’s empowerment and ability to pursue other income-generating opportunities. ADB’s investments in infrastructure services such as water and sanitation, rural electrification, rural roads, clean cookstoves and biogas, and crop and food production technology helps to reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work burden.
The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR) is providing a $2 million grant for the Bangladesh: Institutionalizing Gender Equality Practices in the Local Government Engineering Department to strengthen the operational capacity of the Local Government Engineering Department to deliver effective gender equality results in its mandate to design and implement rural, urban, and small-scale water resources infrastructure across the country. Such results are expected to translate into women’s increased access to and benefits from infrastructure resources and social services.
Through grants from Australia and the Green Climate Fund, the Tonga: Renewable Energy Project will steer the country away from heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels for power generation and into using clean, renewable energy sources. The project’s gender action plan includes as target prioritizing about 90% of all female headed households and businesses to have electricity connections, which will help ease burdensome domestic work and support women-led business enterprises.
Women’s Resilience to External Shocks
To protect women in low-income and vulnerable households against economic, food, and other crises, ADB will pursue targeted social assistance and gender-responsive public budgeting. The Myanmar: Resilient Community Development Project, supported by a $3 million grant from JFPR, will strengthen community resilience and reduce the food insecurity and poverty of rural people living in vulnerable areas, by building their capacity and providing resources to invest sustainably in climate- and disaster-resilient and market-oriented infrastructure and livelihoods. The project aims to boost female participation, with over 50,000 villagers, 30% of whom are women, expected to become better aware of climate change effects, while learning advanced livelihood management skills.
ADB’s financing partnerships have made substantial contributions to strengthening ADB’s ability to deliver transformative projects and knowledge projects that are addressing the drivers of gender inequality and ensuring better development outcomes for women and girls in the region. ADB is committed to increasing its attention to the transformative gender agenda and to working with partners to help women as well as DMCs overcome persistent gender inequalities, which not only infringe on women’s rights and opportunities, but also limit the region’s growth. This is particularly relevant in the post-COVID 19 context, where women are at greater risk of job losses and poverty. Putting women and girls at the heart of the response and recovery has the potential to be a gamechanger for regional economies.
* In ADB's classification, these projects are categorized as “effective gender mainstreaming,” having "gender equity as theme,” or having “some gender elements.” Transaction technical assistance, which directly benefits a project or is financed by ADB (e.g., project preparation, project implementation support, or policy advice), are excluded.