THE Asia-Pacific region must improve female workforce participation rates and address inequality, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Labour Organization (ILO) said.

“Going forward, a comprehensive approach is required that begins with the recognition and implementation of measures designed to foster gender equality within the broader labor market and economic framework,” the ADB and ILO said in its ‘Where women work in Asia and the Pacific’ report.

“There is an urgent need to change gender norms regarding unpaid work and to work towards a more equal distribution of domestic responsibilities between men and women,” it added.

The report cited policies that address structural constraints to working women in the Philippines.

“Overall, the maternity leave policy in the Philippines is designed to provide support and protection to women during the crucial time of childbirth and recovery, while also promoting gender equality and work-life balance in the workplace.”

In 2019, the Philippines extended paid maternity leave to 15 weeks from 8.5 weeks, with an option for an additional unpaid 30 days.

“The law also provides for an optional allocation of seven days of the 15-week maternity leave benefits to the child’s father or an alternate caregiver (as identified by the mother) to encourage shared responsibility and promote gender equality in the workplace and in the home,” it said.

However, the report noted that while these benefits are positive, coverage is still limited to paid workers, which poses a “significant barrier to women’s productive capacity in the country.”

The ADB and ILO said gender gaps persist in the region despite improvements in recent years.

“Women in Asia and the Pacific face numerous structural obstacles that impede their full engagement in the labor market. A significant issue, not unique to the region, is the unequal distribution of unpaid care or domestic responsibilities placed on women regardless of their employment status or sector of employment,” the report said.

They said women in Asia and the Pacific region worked the longest hours when both paid and unpaid work is considered, compared to other regions.

“The absence of support for women’s caregiving duties not only leads to fewer paid work hours and less income but also deters women from entering or rejoining the workforce,” it said.

“The gap in participation rates between men and women, at close to 25 percentage points, remains elevated and 5 percentage points higher than the gap present in Latin America and the Caribbean or at the global level,” it added.

The ADB and ILO recommended measures such as gender-responsive fiscal policy that can address gender biases; gender-inclusive government spending that will prioritize investments in high-quality childcare; and gender-sensitive social protection measures.

“Policies of this nature can improve gender equality by identifying and rectifying gender biases in public spending and revenue collection,” it said.

The ADB and ILO said that governments must make the effort to remove barriers preventing women from pursuing non-traditional, high-paying jobs.

“A life course approach that addresses how girls can pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and technical vocational education and training programs can support subject segregation that leads to occupational segregation,” it said.

“Policies to tackle gender discrimination within the workplace (recruitment, retention, promotion) and which recognize and support women’s ability to balance their care responsibilities are key to making labor markets more equitable,” it added.

The report also noted that working conditions must also be improved. These include strengthening wage legislation; equal pay policies; and improved access to credit and financial services, especially for women working in agriculture. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson