Opening remarks by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank on International Women’s Day, 11 March 2020 in ADB headquarters, Manila, Philippines

I.  Introduction

Distinguished guests, colleagues: good morning, and welcome to ADB’s annual celebration of International Women’s Day.  I would like to extend a warm welcome to Ms. Irene Santiago, our distinguished speaker who will address us shortly.

This is my first International Women’s Day event at ADB. I am very pleased to have this opportunity early in my term as President to talk about ADB’s vital work to promote gender equality in our developing member countries (DMCs) and in ADB’s workplace. Our efforts in both of these areas go hand-in-hand.

II.  Addressing the evolving Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation

Before elaborating on the issue of gender equality, let me take this opportunity to touch on a concern that we all share: the evolving Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.  We have been faced with daily developments, including recent news of growing cases in the Philippines and many other countries where we work, both in Asia and around the globe. I understand the feelings of anxiety that many of you have.

Let me assure you that ADB management is not only monitoring the situation closely, but also working hard on various measures and contingency plans to act swiftly in potentially urgent or worsening situations. I was on top of the latest developments while on the mission last week, and I stand ready to take the measures that are needed to protect our ADB community here in our headquarters and in our field offices.

I want to inform you that tomorrow at 2:00pm, the Pandemic Crisis Management Team will provide detailed information to all staff here in this auditorium and through livestream.  At the same time, I want to encourage you to check the COVID-19 web page on MyADB, which is updated regularly. This is a reliable source of information for ADB advisories and travel restrictions, as well as links to other resources.

III.  Celebrating achievements while acknowledging the remaining challenges

Now, let me return to the agenda of gender equality. Today we are marking twenty-five years since the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, which adopted the ground-breaking Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

In recent decades, the Asia-Pacific region has made important progress on gender issues. Maternal mortality rates in the region declined by 67% between 1990 and 2015. There has been significant improvement toward gender parity in education enrollment from primary through tertiary education.

While we celebrate these achievements, we must also remember that real change has still not reached the lives of many women and girls in our region. The labor force participation rate of women in developing Asia is 50%, compared to 82% for men, while women still carry the major share of unpaid care and domestic work. Women and girls are victims of high levels of gender-based violence. The representation of women in decision-making roles in government and in business remains low.

These challenges prompted the international community to adopt Sustainable Development Goal 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. 

IV.  Support for gender equality in ADB operations

ADB has been a leader in supporting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region for over three decades. 

In Strategy 2030, we are committed to accelerate gender equality in five areas: economic empowerment, human development, decision making and leadership, time poverty reduction, and resilience to external shocks. To ensure that our commitment will be followed by concrete actions, Strategy 2030 presents a clear target on gender: at least 75% of ADB’s committed operations, both sovereign and non-sovereign, will promote gender equality. 

Our projects have already supported gender equality in tangible ways. For example, just last week, I visited a polytechnic school in Depok, a city at the outskirts of Jakarta, where ADB, in collaboration with the Government of Canada, is providing loan and grant assistance to strengthen Indonesia’s skills development programs. I found that 49% of the school’s 7,936 students are female, along with significant numbers of female faculty members in charge of departments. I was very pleased to learn that that many of the young girls whom I interacted with are studying to become engineers, which challenges existing norms. 

I learned last month during a presentation by the Gender Equity Thematic Group about our technical assistance project in Pakistan supporting the training of judges on Asia’s first court focused on gender-based violence. This is a model court where testifying victims are fully protected, and its approach is now being replicated in the Pacific countries.

I was also impressed by the well-functioning “One ADB” approach of the Gender Equity Thematic Group, which brings together all the regional and private sector operations departments, knowledge support departments, and the Office of the General Counsel to promote gender mainstreaming. Working together, we had a strong performance in 2019, with 62% of sovereign and 37% of non-sovereign operations categorized with a gender or mainstreaming focus.

As emphasized in our 2020 Planning Directions, let us accelerate our collective efforts to sustain this great momentum this year and beyond. Among our initiatives to support this, I am pleased to announce that we will make online training on gender mainstreaming mandatory for all current and new operations staff.

V.  Gender equality in the workplace

Gender equality is as essential in our workplace as it is in our operations. 

When I took office, I was proud to find a major transformation in the diversity of ADB’s workforce since I first worked here thirty years ago. Back in 1989, only twenty-seven of the 604 international staff (IS) in ADB were women, or just 4% of IS staff. Today, women account for 37% of international staff, and 30% of senior staff at levels IS 9 and 10 are women. We need to build on recent momentum in staff hires in order to achieve our target of 40% IS women by the end of 2022.

The ability to work flexibly is highly valued by our staff—both men and women alike—who consistently cite this in ADB staff surveys. The utilization of work-from-home arrangements by all staff categories continued to increase in 2019.  These arrangements enable staff to balance work commitments with other life responsibilities, while contributing to business productivity. Flexible work is also vital for organizational resiliency, allowing ADB staff to continue to work remotely through periods of disruption, including this ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Other areas where we have seen progress on gender-related organizational issues include: the renovation of the mothers’ room in HQ, to better cater to the needs of new mothers in the workplace; and the introduction of guidelines for panels and other discussion events to ensure that women and men are adequately represented in the many events hosted by ADB.

These ADB’s achievements have been recognized by a leading global business certification for gender equality called “Economic Dividends for Gender Equality,” or EDGE. ADB is the only international financial institution (IFI), and one of the twenty-five organizations worldwide to be certified at a level known as “EDGE MOVE,” the second of three levels.

Looking ahead, the new Office of Professional Conduct will be operational soon, to support staff in resolving concerns in the workplace, including sexual harassment and bullying. The launch of this office follows the review of the two-year pilot of the Respectful Workplace unit. 

We must reflect gender equality in our organizational culture not only through staff statistics but as part of a broader commitment to an inclusive work culture. We need to foster a work environment where women and men are treated equally—regardless of staff category, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—so that the views of all staff are taken seriously and everyone feels welcome to speak up, share their thinking, and challenge the status quo when necessary.  We will not tolerate any form of bullying and harassment, and this includes sexual harassment. An inclusive culture that empowers each and every one of us will make ADB a stronger and more effective organization. 

VI.  Conclusion 

In closing, let me reiterate my full commitment to gender equality in our operations, our knowledge, and our workplace: because gender equality is everyone’s business.

Investing in gender equality is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. 

Thank you very much.