UN Forum Highlights Persisting Gaps in Gender Equality in Asia

By San Yamin Aung 31 March 2017

RANGOON — A United Nations forum highlighted a significant gender gap in the Asia-Pacific, calling on governments to prioritize gender equality in implementing sustainable development goals in the region.

A high-level panel comprised of government representatives, gender experts and civil society actors from across the region was held on Thursday during the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development 2017 (APFSD 2017) in Bangkok.

APFSD 2017 was held by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) from March 29 to 31 2017.

UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar said in her opening remarks that despite progress made in the region toward gender equality and women’s empowerment, challenges remain.

In a press release, she pointed out that the pay gap between men and women in the region as a whole had reached an astounding 20 percent. Women continue to be paid less and are more likely to find themselves in vulnerable employment circumstances with low wages, no formal contracts or protection of labor rights and with minimal social protection, Dr. Akhtar added.

Professor Maithree Wickramasinghe, founding director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka, said that without prioritizing and addressing the “root causes” of such inequality—which range from oppressive sociocultural norms and practices to legal and policy-based discrimination, to the burden of unpaid work responsibilities—it would not be possible to make a dent in resolving them, let alone fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals.

May Sabe Phyu, director of Burma’s Gender Equality Network (GEN), a network of more than 100 civil society organizations, told The Irrawaddy that the most significant gender gap in the country is regarding women’s inclusion in decision-making and leadership roles, which she described as quite low when compared with other Asean countries.

She added she believes only with more women’s participation at the decision-making level in the country will job opportunities, access to health, education, business, and protective laws for women, be ensured.

May Sabe Phyu added that government discussions on gender equality in sustainable development have only just recently started in Burma.

“We need policies, practical action plans, and proposed budget for that,” she said.