As crisis hits and the gendered nature of risk becomes clear, organisations are rallying around transformative change and novel practices capable of addressing gender norms and inequities, reducing risk across the board.
The first step? Closing the expectation gap.
The question: “Where does women’s time go?” is economically significant. Gender equality is good for economic development: McKinsey estimates that if we reached best in region scenarios, global GDP would increase $12 trillion by 2025, of which East and SEA (excluding China) especially stand to gain in 0.9 trillion. Working at the full-potential scenario would double that: adding as much as $28 trillion to annual GDP in 2025.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a defining moment for this: women constitute 70% of the workers in the health and social sector globally and are on the frontlines of the response. Yet, they shoulder the burden of a gender pay gap of 28%, which does not cover other care responsibilities they are expected to take up, including childcare due to the closure of schools.
Says Naina Subberwal Batra, Chairperson and CEO of AVPN, of the challenge women and girls face, “The problems are so many: where will we start? I mean, if you look at it at the end of the day it’s female infanticide, female genital mutilation, violence against women, empowering women in terms of land ownership, access to capital for women, access to education for women, maternal health for women, menstrual health for women.. So where do we really begin? How are we going to give an opportunity to what should be 50% of the world’s population and definitely should be 50% of Asia’s population be the best that they can be?”
The reasons for action are clear. Women in Asia and the Pacific continue to face discriminatory policies, social and cultural barriers, and threats to their security that violate their rights and limit their potential. The gender gap in economic participation has barely changed in the last 20 years: only 50% of the women in the working age population are economically active, compared to 84% of the men; around 64% of the working women in Asia and the Pacific are in informal employment; 78% of women workers in South and South-West Asia and 60 percent in South-East Asia are concentrated in vulnerable employment.
A great deal of this comes down to education: women’s limited access to education means lower educational attainment than boys and men, resulting in a disadvantaged position in the labour market. Gender norms — such as early marriage and expectations of care work for family — reinforce these limitations.
As Naina notes, achieving gender equity through women and girls in Asia is not only strongly related with achieving the SDGs, it is also Asia’s biggest obstacle to achieving the SDGs compared to other regions.
“Every statistic will tell you we’re so far behind in norms of achieving gender equity, gender equality you know, empowerment for women. In Asia more so; if we want to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the SDG number five is the one we are the farthest behind on. And that is why it’s so important for us to focus on gender outcomes in Asia today.”
Naina stresses the importance of working with policymakers to achieve scale amongst civil society and businesses, in Asia. “Unless and until policy is also supporting what civil society wants to do, you’re not going to really see change. So as a network of resource providers, I see ourselves trying to connect civil society and policy, with the people who actually control these resources.”
So how do we solve this challenge?
The Gender Platform will carve out niches for philanthropic grants, impact investing through gender lens investing, corporate CSR, and ecosystem building intermediaries to find alignment and utilise their strengths.
On the importance of this alignment, Naina says, “If you don’t address that entire continuum of capital towards achieving gender outcomes, we are not going to really see gender equity going where we think we need it to go.”
So, how is the platform connecting these dots and makes those linkages happen? By being the bridge for organisations to
- Identify synergies across funders and resource providers across various issue sectors
- Discourage replication of effort
- Create best practices and inspiring role models
- Build a community of a million women moving action towards a billion women across Asia
What opportunities do three founders see?
We spoke to three country leaders in the AVPN network who are working with women and girls, and how they aim to close the expectations gap:
|How their target organisations need to access funds||Gap of expectation between funders and social organizations|
|Virginia Tan, Teja Ventures||Start-ups and small enterprises
VC funds and impact investments
|Funders are not used to funding products and services for long-term, issue-focused, women’s life cycle holistic needs rather than current needs catering a predominantly male workforce|
|Dickie Widjaja, Investree||Start-ups and small enterprises
Microfinance and related instruments
|Funders do not know how to maintain a diverse investment portfolio or to scout and filter the right businesses to fund|
|Ruel Marana, Ayala Foundation||Organisations need small, short-term loans, and ongoing funds to train and deliver education programmes, which deliver impact only at long-term future points||Philanthropists desire to see impact, but may not always understand what kinds of impact the community need, and may not understand that community-led programmes often deliver stronger value and impact than programmes driven by external motivations.|
AVPN’s work on the Gender Platform comes at this time of increased stakeholder urgency.
It’s been 25 years since Hillary Clinton–who was First Lady at the time–made that speech in Beijing at the UN Conference for Women around the fact that women’s rights are human rights. And if we look at it, little has changed in those 25 years as far as gender outcomes are concerned in Asia. According to the Global Gender Gap report, it’ll take 99.5 years to achieve the agenda outcomes that we are looking for. And I think that is way too long for us to wait. The time to act is now.