Q&A: Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment in Asia and the Pacific

Advancing gender equality in Asia and the Pacific is an ongoing priority for ADB. Gender and development is mainstreamed in all stages of ADB’s project cycle, and ADB is on track to exceed its commitment to promote gender equality in at least 75% of its sovereign and non-sovereign operations by 2030.

ADB Chief of Gender Equality Samantha Hung discusses how ADB is supporting women and girls through its programs, and why digital technology should be harnessed to boost women’s access to finance and further advance gender equality. 

Samantha Hung
Samantha Hung, Chief of Gender Equality, ADB

One of the Asian Development Bank’s priorities is gender equality. How is ADB supporting gender equality?

  Gender equality is key to building an inclusive and resilient Asia and the Pacific. ADB has a critical role in advancing gender equality in the region through our operations and financing. Accelerating progress in gender equality is one of ADB’s seven operational priorities under Strategy 2030. To translate those commitments into action, we have set ourselves ambitious targets to ensure that our investments and knowledge can help more women and girls to enjoy empowerment opportunities. 

During 2020–2022, 99% of ADB’s committed operations promoted gender equality, through financing and knowledge solutions, including improving women's access to quality jobs, fostering women's entrepreneurship, and building women's resilience to climate change. This is up from 96% in 2019–2021, and well on track to exceed ADB’s Strategy 2030 target of 75% in 2030. 

What is women’s economic empowerment and how is ADB promoting it? 

Women’s economic empowerment is women’s ability to make and pursue informed decisions about their lives and livelihoods. To promote women’s economic empowerment, ADB looks at how women’s life cycles and economies work and support governments and the private sector to design programs that address women’s and girls’ needs at the various stages of their lives. 

This means supporting girls to get quality education, including technical and vocational educational training, and training in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or ‘STEM’). It is also important to break down occupational segregation of the workforce by proactively supporting women to enter non-traditional professions. We do this through setting targets for women to obtain skilled jobs. For example, in Fiji, ADB has set targets for Fiji Airways to train female cadets through the airline’s aviation academy.

It also means looking at jobs and entrepreneurship and ensuring that adequate policies are in place for women to have decent jobs, and have access to finance, knowledge, and networks to build and grow their businesses. 

ADB works with governments and the private sector to reduce inequalities in labor markets, entrepreneurship, and financial inclusion by strengthening women’s skills and access to decent work, finance, and training. 

ADB works across the ecosystem to build capacity and support proactive gender policies and practices with governments, financial institutions, business networks, and women entrepreneurs. In Sri Lanka, for example, we have helped over 700 women entrepreneurs to obtain finance to help grow their businesses. This has provided a vital lifeline in an economically challenging context. In the Philippines and Indonesia, we have supported governments to adopt national definitions of women-owned businesses to help them better track and measure performance and policies. In Papua New Guinea, through the Women Finance Exchange platform (WFX), we have developed innovative digital financial skills programs targeting women entrepreneurs.

What is financial inclusion and why is it important for women? 

Financial inclusion is an important pillar of women’s economic empowerment.
Financial inclusion is an important pillar of women’s economic empowerment.

Financial inclusion is broadly defined as the access of particularly low-income households, and small and medium enterprises, to financial services. Financial inclusion is an important pillar of women’s economic empowerment. Having access to and decision-making power over household income, as well as earned personal income, contributes to shifting social norms within the household and the community on women’s roles and voice. It is also linked with reductions in gender-based violence, and improvements in health and livelihoods of children. 

How is ADB supporting women’s financial inclusion in Asia and the Pacific?

  ADB is working with government agencies, the private sector, and development partners to enhance women’s access to financial services by reducing barriers to opening a bank account due to lack of identification papers, addressing a lack of assets and land ownership that makes it difficult for them to get finance, and developing more tailored financial services and products for women.

We’ve been working in Papua New Guinea, for example, through the Digizen project to support digital IDs, which have proven to have positive outcomes for women as it gives them the ability to open a bank account and to start saving. 

We also work with digital financial providers to support the development of apps that overcome traditional barriers of low collateral by looking at alternative credit scoring models, which assess different ways women save and spend. 

ADB is also building the capacity of financial institutions across the region, through our Trade and Supply Chain Finance Program’s gender initiative and other private sector transactions, where we work with partner banks to create more gender responsive financial services.

How can women bridge the digital divide and benefit from the digital transformation of economies?

According to 2022 data from GSMA, women are now 17% less likely than men to own a smartphone around the world. In South Asia, the gap in smartphone ownership is 70%. Across Asia and the Pacific, there is a 6% gender gap in internet usage. 

  Closing the digital gender gap and investing in women’s digital and financial inclusion are critical to gender equality in Asia and the Pacific.

Three key actions can be undertaken to invest in women and girls:


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