SEATTLE, Washington — Gender inequality and poverty are closely intertwined. In developing nations with agricultural economies, traditional family structures may seem integral to survival, but they cement women into gender stereotypical responsibilities as caregivers. Moreover, women in developing countries often have less access to educational and health services, making gender inequality in Asia an arduous battle that women face daily.
Gender Inequality in Asia
In many Asian countries, gender inequality is particularly egregious. Gender inequality in Asia has been pervasive in the continent’s history and remains an issue in modern-day society. In China, the government’s longstanding One Child Policy, though no longer in effect today, created an extreme gender imbalance with 120 males for every 100 females in the Chinese population. In Asia, collectively, fewer than 20% of those who work in politics are women. However, while the political representation for women in Asia is low, it is growing. Poverty alleviation efforts have also increasingly begun to aid women through access to education and microloans.
The History of Gender Inequality in Asia
For the most part, gender inequality is prevalent in developing nations. The high birth rates of developing countries exacerbate women’s duties as birth and caregivers without much room for education or representation. Gender inequality in Asia, however, is specifically prevalent due to the sweeping histories and cultures of the region.
To expand, globalizing religions and philosophies such as Confucianism and Buddhism emphasized female subordination and placed men as the heads of households. Then, patterns of colonialism across the continent relegated Asian women to menial labor and strengthened patrilineal values. Additionally, polygamous practices across Asian nations further devalued women’s status in households.
Development and Political Representation
Recent years, however, has seen a turn for increased gender equality. The Philippines, for example, despite its long history of colonization, is the most gender-equal country in Asia. According to the World Economic Forum, the Philippines has equal education opportunities that have greatly improved societal practices. South Korea has also seen strides toward gender equality with a significant rise in women’s labor force participation rate from 47.27% in 1998 to 52.89% in 2019. Moreover, Laos has closed the gender gap in labor while Cambodia and Mongolia have closed the health sector gender gap.
Increased political representation has also become a reality. In many East Asian countries, the number of women involved in politics has increased. For instance, Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s first female president. Other Asian countries have also seen female leaders such as Pratibha Patil, the former president of India, and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the former president of Sri Lanka. The Phillippines had also seen women’s election into public office rise from 16.1% in 1998 to 21.44% in 2016.
Policy and Poverty Alleviation
In recent years, many government policies attempted to tackle both poverty and gender inequality at equal measures as the two are interconnected. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Womenomics” worked to empower women in the economy to boost national economic growth. Policies under this umbrella have provided childcare services for women, which alleviates the traditional role of motherhood and improves gender equality in the labor force.
International humanitarian organizations are also combatting gender inequality in Asia. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided educational opportunities for 62,000 girls in West Bengal, India, and 31,800 ostracized girls in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Global Fund for Women has granted more than $2 million to organizations fighting gender inequality in Asia and the Pacific.
The historical changes toward gender inequality in Asia continue to encourage countries to develop equal opportunities for women and better societal practices. Gender equality is growing slowly through the continent as political representation and educational opportunities for women increase. However, there is still much to do in the fight against gender inequality, and continued global efforts are needed to establish an equal and just world.
– Maggie Sun