UN: Myanmar Must Enable Women’s Entry Into the Workforce

By Nyein Nyein 22 June 2017

YANGON – Myanmar needs to realize the potential of women and enable their entry into the labor market in order to generate economic growth driven by a “gender dividend,” said the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Thursday.

The UN said the conclusion was based on the findings from a series of 14 papers from the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census Thematic Report, which examines the total labor force participation rate of both men and women. The department of population completed the Thematic Report on the Labor Force—the seventh paper out of 14—in June.

Although men and women make up almost an equal ratio of Myanmar’s population, according to the census data, just 50.5 percent of women are working, compared with 85.6 percent of men.

“ILO agrees these figures highlight the untapped potential of women in the workforce and how creating jobs for women could really boost economic development,” Rory Mungoven, Liaison Officer with the International Labor Organization in Yangon—the UN’s labor agency—told The Irrawaddy in response to the UNFPA report.
The UNFPA has maintained that women “are critical to Myanmar’s development,” and that they “hold the key to Myanmar’s future prosperity.”

The agency highlighted that if more women were to join the jobs sector, Myanmar would experience “a dramatic rise in the country’s per capita income.”

“The gender dividend can be unlocked immediately if jobs are created. But for this to happen, women need equal rights to education, jobs, credit, land, and decision-making positions,” said Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar, in Thursday’s statement.

“A better and safer working environment for women is a real need, in addition to providing vocational skills development for women to enter the labor market,” echoed Daw Thet Thet Aung, the in-charge of the Future Light Centre, who has been helping laborers mostly in Yangon’s industrial zones.

She told The Irrawaddy that she estimated that the vast majority of the total workforce in factories are women. She added that more women are entering employment, both domestically and internationally, as migrant workers.

She highlighted that many domestic workers may not be enumerated in the census as their jobs are in the home, and that, as a society, Myanmar “tends not to consider them as laborers.”

Many women in the workforce also need greater support to build their capacity, Daw Thet Thet Aung added.

“It will be a significant challenge for Myanmar to build the skills of an inadequately educated population to the level required for an expanding modern economy,” said Janet Jackson.

“Young people in particular require targeted policies and interventions,” she said, reiterating the argument from January, when the UNFPA released findings that one million new jobs were needed to ensure employment for Myanmar’s young population over the next four years.

The UN agency said youth unemployment in Myanmar contributes to the low labor force, and the causes are linked to socioeconomic status and education.

In Myanmar, from age 19, joblessness is the highest within the richest fifth of the country’s population. People with graduate diplomas have the highest unemployment rate, almost five times greater than those with no education.

One in four people aged 15-24 (25.6 percent) are not engaged in education, employment or training, a figure which is more than double for young women (34.9 percent) than for young men (15.8 percent).

However, those in then skilled labor sector, numbering almost 12 million, are underqualified for the work they perform, according to official census report.

Myanmar’s labor force is amongst the lowest in Asean, according to the UNFPA. Only 63.6 percent of the population is economically active, compared to 80.9 percent in Cambodia and 77.4 percent in Laos.