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Gender and Development

Gender equality and women's empowerment are essential for meeting Asia and the Pacific's aspirations of inclusive and sustainable development. ADB recognizes that to reduce poverty rates, helping women and girls must be a priority in its work.

Closing the Gender Gap

Asia’s Greatest Potential Can be Found in Its Women and Girls

A woman joins a computer class
A woman joins a computer class at the Institut Teknologi Bandung in Indonesia

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.

Finance manager of the Franjti Shipping
The finance manager of the Franjti Shipping company, supported by the ADB co-financed domestic maritime support 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.”

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This article was originally published in a special edition of Together We Deliver, which tells 50 stories highlighting the importance of good partnerships in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the complex development challenges of this dynamic region.


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.

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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

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.

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4 May 2021 ADB Annual Meeting discusses accelerating inclusive COVID-19 recovery through women-focused strategies

A high-level panel on 4 May 2021 moderated by BBC journalist Sharanjit Leyl, bringing together senior women representatives from government, the private sector, development partners International Labour Organization (ILO) and Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initative (We-Fi), and ADB Deputy Chief Economist Joseph Zveglich Jr. discussed key strategies to ensure women can equally benefit from and contribute to COVID-19 recovery. The discussion included innovative approaches to build future workplaces based on parity and diversity, policies addressing women’s unpaid care work, innovative financial solutions for women entrepreneurs, and proactive measures and targets. Coalitions to transform economies in favor of gender equality were promoted. See the explainer video, video recording, and the blog.

24 March 2021 Lao PDR, ADB advocate two laws for women internationally

ADB Lao Resident Mission Country Director Sonomi Tanaka and Vice-President of the National Commission for Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children Bandith Prathoumvanh on 24 March 2021 in Vientiane opened the dissemination event of the Law on Gender Equality and the Law on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Children. ADB’s TA on Enhancing Gender Equality Results in Southeast Asian Developing Member Countries (Phase 2) supported the publication of the English translation and dissemination. Representatives from government and development partners attended the event.

10 September 2020 Webinar on promoting gender equality in the COVID-19 response and recovery

ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa on 10 September 2020 opened the joint ADB-UN Women ministerial webinar on Promoting Gender Equality in the COVID-19 Response and Recovery. In opening remarks, the President highlighted ADB's prioritization of gender equality in the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Option program and efforts to narrow the gender gap. Senior ministers and government officials from Fiji, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Philippines, and Samoa shared their views on putting a gender lens to their COVID-19 approach. ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Bambang Susantono, in closing remarks, reaffirmed ADB's commitment to gender equality, the Sustainable Development Goals, and strengthening the partnership with UN Women.

27 August 2020 Webinar on Islamic finance and women's financial inclusion

ADB's Gender Equity Thematic Group and Finance Sector Group hosted the Islamic Development Bank's (IsDB) Kristonia Lockhart and Syed Faiq Najeeb for a webinar on 27 August 2020. IsDB presented their programs to promote women's financial inclusion and how Islamic finance principles were fully aligned with financial inclusion. ADB's Arup Chatterjee provided insights on the potential for Islamic finance to address emerging COVID-19 challenges and possibility of leveraging digital tools for Islamic finance.

24 August 2020 Watch: Five Ways to Close the Gender Gap in Anticorruption Programs

Gaelle Demolis from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) shares strategies that development organizations can take to ensure that anticorruption programs promote gender equality. This is part of ADB's Office of Anticorruption and Integrity's iACT, iTalk video series featuring thought leaders on fighting corruption and other integrity-related risks.

30 June 2020 Webinar on gender action plan monitoring and evaluation

ADB's East Asia Department on 30 June 2020 hosted a webinar to enhance the capacities of implementing agencies and project management offices in the People's Republic of China (PRC) for monitoring gender actions in projects, and reporting results in project completion reports. More than 270 representatives from 54 project management offices in the PRC participated in the webinar.

10 June 2020 Experts discuss ways to enhance COVID-19 safety nets for women

Greater social protection for women, one of the most affected groups in the COVID-19 crisis, was highlighted on 10 June 2020 during the third and final webinar in a series organized by ADBI and ADB to address the pandemic's safety net challenges and real-time policy lessons for Asia. Amitabh Kant, CEO of the National Institution for Transforming India, described the country's COVID-19 safety net response. Experts concluded the webinar series by discussing policy recommendations for institutionalizing pandemic support for the vulnerable to boost recovery and crisis preparedness.

9 June 2020 ADB joins launch of the world's first National Women's Financial Inclusion Strategy

ADB's Indonesia Resident Mission Deputy Country Director Said Zaidansyah joined the Indonesia's Deputy Coordinating Minister for Macroeconomic and Financial Coordination Iskandar Simorangkir on 9 June 2020 in the virtual launch of Indonesia's National Women's Financial Inclusion Strategy. ADB supported the world's first financial inclusion strategy dedicated to women that aims to accelerate financial inclusion for Indonesian women to foster their economic independence, resilience, and empowerment. 

26 March 2020 Webinar on fighting the gendered impact of corruption

At a webinar jointly hosted by ADB's Office of Anticorruption and Integrity and Gender Equity Thematic Group, UN Women's Gaelle Demolis presented new data illustrating how some forms of corruption disproportionately affect women—such as when access to health care and basic services is withheld in exchange for bribes (which take a greater chunk of women's income) or sexual services. The webinar also discussed evidence linking female representation to better public accountability and governance systems that are transparent and responsive to women’s and men’s needs.

13 March 2020 Women's Advisory Committee for skills sector launched in Sri Lanka

To help increase the employability of female vocational training graduates, the Women's Advisory Committee, launched on 13 March 2020 in Colombo, will support the industry sector skills councils to undertake gender-sensitive approaches in building collaborations between private sector employees and public sector training institutions. The launch was attended by the Secretary and Additional Secretary of the ministry, directors-general of vocational training institutions, and representatives from private sector organizations, chambers of commerce, industry sector skills councils, and development partners. ADB supported the initiative under a projected financed by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, which demonstrates innovative approaches for private sector participation and women's empowerment in technical and vocational education and training in Sri Lanka.

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