fbpx International Women’s Day - Takehiko Nakao | Asian Development Bank

International Women’s Day - Takehiko Nakao

Speech | 8 March 2019

Opening Remarks by ADB President Takehiko Nakao at International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019 at ADB headquarters in Manila, Philippines [Delivered by Vice President for Administration and Corporate Management Deborah Stokes]


Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen: Good morning and welcome to ADB’s annual celebration of International Women’s Day! 

Let me extend a warm welcome to our distinguished speaker, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer. She is a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation. Previously, she has held such important international positions as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Director of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and Special Adviser of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste. 

International Women’s Day is a day to honor achievements towards gender equality. Last year there was unprecedented attention given to gender inequality worldwide. Joining the global call to action, I signed with other heads of multilateral development banks (MDBs) a joint statement on policies and mechanisms to prevent and eliminate all forms of sexual exploitation and harassment. 

Here in the Philippines, I am happy to acknowledge that the World Economic Forum recently recognized the country as the 8th most gender-equal nation in the world in its Global Gender Gap Index. The Philippines has now closed gender gaps in education and has one of the highest percentages of women on corporate boards and in management. This is an impressive achievement that many countries in our region can aspire to. 

In the Philippines, of course, we should continue to address remaining poverty and inequality, which is a particularly heavy burden for women and girls. ADB stands behind the current government’s commitment to provide more opportunities for higher education, better healthcare, and good jobs for women in both urban and rural areas.

With my remarks today, I would like to speak on ADB’s support for gender equality in our operations and in the ADB workplace.

ADB support for gender equality in operations

In ADB, we are continuing to achieve strong results on gender equality in our operations. Last year, 56% of our sovereign and nonsovereign lending at entry were mainstreamed with strong gender design elements. On completion, we see similar good results. The success rate for our gender mainstreamed projects was 76% in 2018.  These results are the outcome of ADB’s robust gender mainstreaming system, which is unique among multilateral development banks (MDBs).

Looking to the future, I am proud to announce that ADB is setting even higher standards for itself. Under Strategy 2030, gender equality is one of seven operational priorities. By 2030, 75% of the number of committed projects and programs will promote gender equality. For the first time, this target will include our nonsovereign operations. In this way, ADB is helping governments and companies mainstream gender equality in their own programs and operations.

We already have many promising results; let me share with you some recent examples. 

First is gender equality in disaster response and management. Last year, ADB approved an Emergency Loan to Indonesia following the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Recognizing that women and girls are left particularly vulnerable after disasters, special design features were included such as (i) the opening of 34 health centers with specialized services covering maternal health and support for the prevention and response to gender-based violence; (ii) the construction of 100 schools with gender-responsive designs; and (iii) extensive consultation and awareness-raising with women’s groups on disaster response preparedness.

Second, in the area of health, ADB is supporting a comprehensive HPV (human papillomavirus vaccination) program in Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu for adolescent girls. In addition to increasing the immunization coverage, which will directly reduce incidences of cervical cancer, the program also includes education and awareness-raising programs through schools and communities. 

In many countries, we are helping to strengthen the primary health care system by reinforcing the technical capacity of health care officers, collecting sex-disaggregated health data, and updating existing medical guidelines to meet international standards. 

Third, in the area of women’s entrepreneurship, ADB was awarded a $12.6 million grant in 2018 from the Women’s Entrepreneurship Finance Initiative (We-Fi), which will complement ADB’s $75 million loan for small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) development. This grant will enable over 600 women SMEs in Sri Lanka to have access to finance and business skills training. To date, over 200 women-led SMEs have gained access to loans to start or grow their businesses. This project will also strengthen the capacity of financial institutions and government agencies to deliver more gender-inclusive services and policies. 

In Myanmar, we are investing for the first time in a private equity fund which has developed a gender equality scorecard to guide selection of the fund’s investments. The fund will also undertake a gender HR assessment in order to foster a gender-responsive corporate work environment. 

Lastly, we continue to support other projects with a gender focus in such areas as technical and vocational education and training (TVET), urban and water, rural development, transport, and renewable energy. We also provide technical assistance for legal and judicial reforms in support of gender equality, as well as women’s leadership within government and communities at all levels.

Gender equality in ADB workplace

Turning to ADB’s workplace, gender equality must continue to be a business priority. Management teams where men and women are represented equally, bring more effective leadership styles and perspectives. By avoiding “groupthink,” or homogeneous thinking, they can generate new ideas and provide more innovative solutions to cater to the changing needs of our developing member countries. 

It is also our responsibility to lead by example by having women well represented at senior levels. Since I joined ADB in 2013, I have appointed talented women to leadership roles. In particular, the share of women as Heads of Department increased from 17% in 2013 to 29% in 2018. 

ADB has made significant progress in implementing the 17-point gender action plan I approved in November 2016 to strengthen the recruitment, career management, and development of all staff, with an emphasis on women in senior roles. Let me share some of our latest achievements.

First, today women comprise nearly 59% of ADB staff. Over 36% of International Staff are women, an increase from 34% in 2016 and 35% in 2017. 

Second, in line with ADB’s commitment to equal pay and opportunities for women and men, Willis Towers Watson conducted an independent salary study to assess whether there are any unexplained gender-based pay gaps over the past 10 years. The findings shared with staff in 2018 showed that there are no significant unexplained pay gaps. There are no gender-based differences in promotions and performance ratings across ADB either.

Third, the use of work-from-home arrangements by all staff categories has increased during 2018. This provides more work flexibility for our women and men staff, enabling them to be more productive and better balance work commitments with important responsibilities at home and in other areas.

Fourth, through the ADB Expatriate Spouse Career Services’ program, ADB has been supporting spouses and domestic partners of ADB expatriate staff in managing their careers while in the Philippines or the region. Over one-third of the program’s participants found a job, which is an important factor in attracting and retaining talented International Staff to ADB. 

Last, I am proud to share with you that ADB has just attained the second level of certification under EDGE, which stands for Economic Dividends for Gender Equality and is a leading global business certification for gender equality. By attaining the second level, EDGE MOVE, ADB has become the first international financial institution to do so. It is clear that ADB is making steady progress in gender representation, most notably in senior roles. It is also encouraging that staff perceptions, for both women and men, under the EDGE employee survey show strong improvements since 2016.

Gender equality in our workplace is an ongoing agenda. We should remember that the above-mentioned achievements are the result of deliberate actions and may not continue if we become complacent. 

I request all managers, and all of you, to sustain the progress for the benefit of women and men, and our organization. ADB’s 2022 gender targets are still to be achieved, and our journey towards institutional gender equality shall continue. More broadly, I would like to reiterate ADB’s commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusion and respect for every staff member, regardless of their gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, and thinking style.


In closing, gender equality will be at the heart of ADB’s priorities under Strategy 2030 and across our institution. Women’s empowerment is not just an objective in itself; it is essential to achieving inclusive and sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific. 

Thank you.