While the pandemic has affected everyone, the disadvantaged have suffered the most. Women are often part of this group, said Karin Strandås, state secretary to the Minister for Gender Equality in Sweden, in a March 18 women empowerment webinar organized by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO).
Women have a weaker position in the labor market and they bear the brunt of unpaid work at home. Reforms that include affordable childcare and equal parental leaves will go a long way towards progress and equal economic opportunity for all, Ms. Strandås said. Acknowledging the role of men and boys as drivers of change must also be addressed: “They must be part of pushing gender equality,” she added.
Women who earn more invest more in their families and homes—from putting food on the table to getting healthcare for their children, said Algene T. Sajery, vice-president of the US International Development Finance Corporation’s Office of External Affairs. “Investing in women equals investing in stability,” she said. “Empower them to earn respectable wages.”
Helping women means understanding their specific challenges. In some areas where clean water is not available, for instance, the task of gathering water takes the better part of the day, thus limiting the opportunity for women to earn outside the home. “If you can help them save time, then it’s providing them a service,” said Ms. Sajery.
Taiwan, which ranked ninth globally and first in Asia in Gender Inequality Index in 2018, is a country that takes gender equality as a policy. The labor participation rate of women aged 25–29 is 91.8%, higher than that of major countries. Meanwhile, 94% of employees report not having faced gender discrimination, thanks in part to a 2002 law that espouses gender equality in employment. Female participation is also felt in governance, as Taiwan’s number of female parliament members have increased from 38% in 2016 to 42% this year. Its head of state, Tsai Ing-wen, is a woman. A migrant women’s conference moreover encourages migrant women to communicate with the government and participate in policy-making.
In Kosovo, a country with around 1.8 million citizens, affirmative measures have similarly been enacted towards gender equality. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), often referred to as the women’s bill of rights, was included in its constitution when the country became independent in 2008. An existing measure further stipulates that 30% in parliament have to be women. “In the latest elections, 40% were elected,” said Iliriana J. Gashi, director of Kosovo Women for Women, an organization that supports marginalized women. “Most were elected not because of the gender quota.”
Women in Kosovo, however, are not using their economic power. Only 13% of businesses are registered to women, Ms. Gashi said, and almost 80% do not participate in the labor market. “They’re not even looking for jobs,” she added. Women for Women has been offering training programs to over 35,000 women since 2012 to help them gain the skills necessary to become active members of society.
“Some people say that maybe we should give some of the men’s rights to women,” said Ms. Gashi. “No, that’s not it. The more rights people have, the better it becomes for everyone.”
SIDEBAR | COVID-19 ‘unleashes historic setback’ for female participation in the labor force, report says
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has unleashed a “historic setback to female participation in the labor force,” a March 5 report by J.P. Morgan Perspectives said. COVID-19 has caused disproportionate effects on women and their economic status, as they face greater disruption due to the nature of their jobs and greater responsibility for child care.
Women, the report said, are over-represented in those sectors worst affected by the pandemic, such as the services industries, retail, tourism, and hospitality. The World Bank estimates that in high-income countries, almost 90% of female employment is in services, compared to 64% for male employment.
The domestic burden, moreover—particularly of childcare—is weighing on female labor supply. The gender pay gap remains persistent and is widening as women reduce hours to meet child care demands. There is also slower progress for female representation on boards and little change at the C-suite level.
A silver lining is the increased female representation in developed market public leadership roles in the US and in Europe, according to the report. While Europe remains the leader in advancing gender balance policies, the Biden administration has made inroads by appointing the most gender-diverse cabinet in US history. A record 143 women serve in the US Congress today, holding 27% of the seats.
In terms of gender balance in institutions, the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF)’s 2020 Gender Balance Index notes that Europe remains the best performing region for female representation at central banks, with a score of 37.3, but that it was the Asia Pacific region’s score that improved the most, moving up to 12.3 from 9 last year.
One financial industry player that aims to enter the ranks of top global banks with respect to diversity and inclusion is the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) of Japan. It generates around 40% of its earnings from overseas markets, and the diversity of its board reflects this international business structure: four of its 16 board members (25%) are female, and two (12.5%) are non-Japanese.
Per the J.P. Morgan Perspectives report, only one female board member and no non-Japanese board members are the norm at other megabanks and major Japanese financial institutions.
Shiseido is another Japanese company with successful female representation initiatives, the report highlighted. Women made up 46.2% of the skincare and makeup company’s directors and audit and supervisory board members as of January this year, up from 45.5% last year. Female managerial appointments, furthermore, account for 52.7% of its global operations as a whole, with its Asia Pacific operations garnering an even higher figure (69.8%). Shiseido also partnered with UNICEF, or the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, in 2019 to support female empowerment worldwide, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. — Patricia B. Mirasol