This article was originally published on adb.org and is republished with permission
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (1 June 2017) — Gender inequality is slowing the transition toward more inclusive growth in Asia and the Pacific, says a new report by the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Independent Evaluation Department, which reveals a striking picture of the state of gender disparities in the region.
The evaluation of ADB’s support for gender and development acknowledges that ADB is recognized as a pioneer among multilateral development banks for integrating gender into the design of its projects. But it urges ADB to step up support for projects that can have a direct impact on gender equality by, for example, addressing restrictions to women’s access to economic opportunities, rights, and justice. This lack of access has resulted in over $3 trillion in income losses in the region, according to one estimate cited in the study.
“Gender equality as part of eradicating poverty is a big unfinished development agenda in Asia,” says Marvin Taylor-Dormond, Director General of Independent Evaluation at ADB. “Overcoming gender inequality and discrimination continues to be hard, but without progress in these areas, it will be difficult to realize many of the region’s broader development goals.”
The evaluation covered ADB-supported programs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, and Timor-Leste. Despite their cultural, social, and economic diversity, common gender issues emerged from all of them.
On the plus side, gender gaps in health and education are narrowing, and the increased provision of basic infrastructure has brought benefits to women on multiple fronts, including improved access to markets and jobs. But gender wage gaps remain glaring, and the increased burden of unpaid caring for the elderly, triggered by Asia’s aging population, could further constrain women’s participation in labor markets. Because women in Asia mostly work in low-wage, informal-sector jobs, they tend to be hardest hit by economic crises — and are more vulnerable to disasters from natural hazards and the impact of climate change. Gender-based violence remains prevalent in many countries. Chapter 2 of the study discusses the challenges and constraints to achieving greater gender equality in Asia and the Pacific.
“Governments and their development partners could significantly advance gender equality by promoting gender-responsive social protection systems, addressing institutional barriers to women’s entry to labor markets, and tackling gender-based violence,” says the study’s main author Hyun Son.
ADB stepped up its efforts to help women cope with climate change over the evaluation period.
A climate resilience project in Cambodia, for example, integrated gender into national climate change action plans. “Failing to include women in climate change mitigation and adaption at the local and national levels undermines the effectiveness of climate change action,” says Hyun Son.
Mobilizing women into self-help groups focusing on livelihood activities was ADB’s main form of support to reduce their vulnerability to shocks and risks. In India, the Tsunami Emergency Assistance Project helped set up 20,265 new groups. But the evaluation found ADB’s support for social protection systems — which are vital in helping women cope with shocks and risks — was limited.
“Social protection and safety nets do not always offer equal benefits for women and men,” says Son. “The increased vulnerability of women to economic crisis and natural disasters underscores the need for strong social protection systems with a gender perspective.”
The study found that ADB was effective in promoting gender equality in education and health, and through travel-time savings for women by incorporating gender issues into infrastructure projects. Road projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and India, for example, made it easier for women to get to work and transport produce to markets. But ADB’s policy and project support to remove barriers to women’s participation in labor markets — which is vital for their economic empowerment — remains limited. “Much remains to be done in this area,” says the study.
The participation of women in community organizations and the involvement of nongovernment organizations in interventions to promote gender equality — by monitoring their implementation, for example — were common factors of ADB-supported projects evaluated as successful. A good example of how this involvement worked well was a road project in Cambodia that recruited a nongovernment organization and a social marketing firm to explain opportunities for construction work to rural women. Factors that hindered success included a lack of data collected separately for men and women, and the limited involvement of gender specialists.
“Understanding which interventions to promote gender equality work and which do not will be vital for making tangible progress, and here evaluations of projects and programs with gender goals provide invaluable lessons and insights” says Taylor-Dormond.
About Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank
Asian Development Bank’s Independent Evaluation, reporting to the Board of Directors through the Development Effectiveness Committee, contributes to development effectiveness by providing feedback on ADB’s policies, strategies, operations, and special concerns in Asia and the Pacific.
Hans van Rijn
Independent Evaluation Department
Telephone: +63 2 632 5642