Closing the Gender Gap
Asia’s Greatest Potential Can be Found in Its Women and Girls
ADB recognized women needed opportunities to learn, work, contribute and earn, or the potential of half of the region would not be maximized. This understanding has evolved into policies that leverage the potential of women to benefit society as a whole.
Although women make up about 50% of the population in many countries in Asia and the Pacific, their ability to participate in all aspects of society is often limited due to discrimination, societal restrictions, and a lack of access to education and job opportunities.
Consider these facts.
By one estimate, $12 trillion could be added to global gross domestic product by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.
In developing Asia, only 49% of women of working age participate in the labor force compared with 80% of men. Further, a woman in developing Asia is paid only 77% that of her male counterpart, on average.
Only about 10% of women in the region own land, and this makes it difficult for them to borrow money to start a business. The region also has far to go to reach gender parity in the boardroom and in legislative bodies: women occupy only 6% of seats on corporate boards and only 18% of seats in legislatures across the region.
These disparities must be eliminated for Asia and the Pacific to reach its full potential.
An evolving policy
Since it was founded in 1966, ADB has recognized that to reduce poverty rates, helping women and girls must be a priority in its work. In 1985, ADB adopted its first official policy on the topic—the Policy on the Role of Women in Development, which encouraged projects that targeted improving the well-being and empowerment of women. It also advocated projects with a gender component to ensure that women share in the benefits of development.
In 1998, the policy was expanded to incorporate gender considerations into all aspects of ADB’s work, with a focus on health, education, agriculture, natural resource management, and financial services—especially microcredit. This strategy entailed including gender considerations in projects starting from initial consultations and design, and running through to final evaluation.
ADB’s commitment to gender equality was further enhanced in 2008 with the approval of Strategy 2020, which identified gender equity as one of the five “drivers of change” that will be stressed in all ADB operations.
An unusual plumber
The results of ADB’s work to help women and girls can be felt around Asia and the Pacific. In Nepal, it can be seen in the work of Sumitra Shrestha.
As a master plumber, she can often be found supervising men on construction sites. Women plumbers are rare in Nepal and senior women plumbers are even more scarce. Shrestha is an exception, but other women plumbers are following her example.
“Some clients ask me, ‘Can a woman do this kind of work? Can you handle this?’” she said. “I tell them, ‘Just watch me work. Talk to my former clients. If you see how I work, you won’t be worried.’”
As a single mother supporting a young son on her earnings as a weaver, Shrestha used to struggle to make enough money to keep him fed. When she heard about a program that offered training for women to learn how to be plumbers, she wanted to know more.
“I had not heard of a woman plumber before,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I take this challenge?’”
“You have to be willing to work hard to be a plumber and it can be dangerous working on construction sites,” she said. “But it is skilled labor, the pay is good, and the work is secure—there is always a need for plumbers.”
Shrestha is a graduate of one of several training institutes supported by ADB’s Skills for Employment Project, which helped women and disadvantaged people in society, including Dalits, or low-caste individuals, learn in-demand skills.
She now earns five times more than she did as a weaver, and can afford to send her son to a good school.
The best investment
The first primary education project ADB supported was also ADB’s first loan that exclusively targeted women. The Primary Education (Girls) Sector Project in Pakistan was approved in 1989, at a time when the literacy rate among women in the country was 15%—and just 4% in rural areas—among the lowest in the world. Due to a lack of girls’ schools in many areas, only one-third of girls attended school and more than half dropped out before completing 5 years of schooling.
Besides improving school access and the quality of the learning environment, the project’s major contribution was its sociocultural impact: mostly illiterate rural people, who put a premium on girls’ work at home or in the fields, more readily accepted girls’ education.
Since then, ADB has supported many more projects to bring more girls into classrooms and keep them learning for longer.
In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, ADB’s work in gender equality was felt by Yen Fo, a young girl who desperately wanted to go to school but could not because her mother did not have the money.
Yen Fo’s father died and she was being supported by her mother, who worked as a day laborer to support Yen Fo and her two sisters. The young girl was given the chance to attend school by a village outreach program that sought out the poorest children in the area and helped them obtain what they needed to enroll. The program was part of the ADB-supported Second Education Quality Improvement Project.
Now that Yen Fo has been given the chance for an education, she is making the most of the opportunity. One of the school administrators commended Yen Fo, saying, “she has a perfect attendance record.”
Traditional gender bias meant that other daughters risked being pulled out of school when a family’s income falls so that sons can continue their education. Community awareness programs supported under the project tackled this issue by helping villagers understand that school attendance was mandatory for both boys and girls, and that assistance was available for those who needed it.
“This situation of pulling girls out of school has changed,” says Sinsay Phengleu, the principal of a Paxang village primary school in the north of the country. “Now, all children go to school. There is no difference between boys and girls.”
Country Gender Assessments
Country Gender Assessments build on the experience gained by the programs of the ADB in supporting gender equality, social inclusion, and women's empowerment. These reports provide an overview of gender and social inclusion issues in the ADB's developing member countries and analyze the various social identities and their impact on development outcomes.
Armenia: Country Gender Assessment
This report examines Armenia’s progress in achieving gender equality in the government, economy, society, and culture. It analyzes gender issues in key sectors such as energy, transport, and urban development.
Kyrgyz Republic: Country Gender Assessment
This country gender assessment (CGA) provides a comprehensive, up-to-date gender analysis of key socioeconomic areas in the Kyrgyz Republic. It also reviews progress and identifies gaps in gender mainstreaming.
Azerbaijan: Country Gender Assessment
This publication presents the results of an assessment of how Azerbaijan has steadily advanced gender equality outcomes while pursuing its goal to become a highly developed country.
Kazakhstan Country Gender Assessment
This publication develops a strategic focus for integrating gender concerns into programs and operations of the Asian Development Bank in Kazakhstan.
Georgia: Country Gender Assessment
This publication provides a gender analysis of socioeconomic areas and issues in Georgia and for the Asian Development Bank’s operations in Georgia.
Gender Checklists and Toolkits in Sector Work
Sector Gender Checklists
Sector gender checklists have been prepared to help ADB staff, government partners and consultants address gender issues in the design of projects across different sectors. They provide a “how to” integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment objectives in a range of sectors by:
- providing a step-by-step guide to designing gender inclusive projects
- guiding users through the various stages of the project cycle to identify the main gender issues in the sector
- suggesting design features, strategies and components to respond to gender concerns
- including sample terms of reference for the conduct of social and gender analysis
- featuring case studies of ADB projects to demonstrate good practice
Checklists and Toolkits
Gender Action Plans in ADB Projects
The project-specific gender action plan (GAP) is a tool used by ADB to ensure “gender mainstreaming” is tangible and explicitly visible in project design and implementation. The project GAP is not a separate component. It mirrors the project outputs and is an integral part of project design.
GAPs in ADB project documents
GAPs include clear targets, quotas, gender design features and quantifiable performance indicators to ensure women’s participation and benefits. Key aspects of the GAP are incorporated into project assurances to encourage buy-in from executing agencies and other project partners.
The GAP presents
- preparatory work undertaken to address gender issues in the project
- quotas, targets, design features included in the project to address gender inclusion and facilitate women's involvement and/or ensure tangible benefits to women
- mechanisms to ensure implementation of the gender design elements
- gender monitoring and evaluation indicators
Based on the gender categories of ADB projects, loans and grants with a Gender and Development theme or Effective Gender Mainstreaming have a GAP included as a link to the project document and incorporated in the project administration manual.
- Gender Checklists
- Gender, Law, and Policy in ADB Operations: A Tool Kit
- Project Gender Action Plans: Lessons for Achieving Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction Results
- About the Gender and Development Cooperation Fund
- Gender and Development Cooperation Fund Institutional Document
- Gender and Development Cooperation Fund Progress Reports