Key Issues Facing Women in the Asia Pacific
Across the Asia Pacific, women experience a range of key issues, challenges and discrimination on a daily basis. The following issues represent barriers to achieving gender equity and require wide-ranging policies.
Violence against women
As a violation of women’s human rights, violence against women and girls negatively impacts upon women’s education, economic security and autonomy and can lead to harmful physical and mental health consequences including death (UN Women 2019).
Intimate partner violence represents the most common form of violence and has a high prevalence in the region.
Child, early and forced marriage are also prevalent in South Asia and honour crimes are prevalent in West and South Asia
Women are more likely to experience poverty than men in the region as a result of lower levels of labour participation, lower incomes and the gender pay gap as well as gender discrimination and inequalities in education, employment and health (UN Women 2019; Wong & Lozac’h 2014).
In Asia, women represent two-thirds of poor people (UN Women Asia and the Pacific n.d.).
Social and cultural norms
Social and cultural norms prescribe gendered social roles on women and power relations between men and women. They create unconscious gender bias which impact women in every facet of society (United Nations Development Programme 2020).
Examples of social and cultural norms present include the universal expectation for women to enter marriage, the prescription of traditional roles of daughters, mothers and wives, the practice of dowry and bridewealth, and the cultural preference for sons.
Education provides women greater economic and employment opportunities, improves health and wellbeing outcomes and reduces child marriage (OECD 2014).
While gender parity has almost been achieved globally in enrolment in primary education, it is yet to be achieved in secondary education with mixed attendance across the region (United Nations 2015; Conceição 2019).
Political leadership and decision-making
Despite progress over recent years, women continue to be underrepresented in political leadership and decision-making in the Asia Pacific with no country achieving equal representation in parliament.
In 2018, women represented over 30% of parliamentary seats in New Zealand, Australia and Nepal (Conceição 2019, pp. 316-319). In contrast, the Pacific has the lowest representation of women in parliament in the world (Secretariat of the Pacific Community c. 2014).
Health, sexual and reproductive care
Although access to health, sexual and reproductive care and services is improving in the Asia Pacific, in many parts of the region, women continue to receive unequal access as a result of gender inequity, social norms and poverty.
While maternal mortality rates are decreasing and the number of births which are attended by a skilled professional are increasing in the region, further progress is still needed, particularly in South Asia (UN Women Asia and the Pacific 2019).
Overweight and obesity represent key issues facing women in the Pacific and in West Asia and particularly in Jordan (United Nations 2015).
In the region, women are more likely to be unemployed and participate less in the labour market than men with particularly low participation rates in South Asia and in the Pacific (OECD 2014; UN Women Asia and the Pacific 2019).
The gender pay gap remains the most obvious form of gender inequity in the workplace with South Korea maintaining the highest gender pay gap of 39% and New Zealand maintaining the lowest gap of 5-7% (OECD 2014, p. 38).
Women undertake the majority of unpaid domestic and care work with women completing three more hours per day of unpaid work than men (OECD 2014, p. 41).
Across the Asia Pacific, there has been significant improvement to accessing clean drinking water and sanitation facilities (United Nations 2015).
Women are at greater risk of experiencing indoor air pollution as a result of cooking with unclean heating fuels (UN Women Asia and the Pacific 2019).
Women are negatively impacted by natural disasters and climate change with some women in the region not able to recover post-disaster due to low levels of education and poverty and are consequently at greater risk of unemployment (United Nations 2015).
In some countries in the Asia Pacific, women are unable to complete legal actions in the same manner as men (UN Women et al. 2019).
For example, in 2018, Fiji, Jordan, Pakistan, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands had discriminatory laws against women to apply for a passport (UN Women et al. 2019).
Women’s rights are protected by United Nations conventions and treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
Lack of gender data
The lack of gender-specific data in the Asia Pacific represents a major barrier to achieving gender equity as it does not allow for evidenced-based policy-making to target key issues facing women.