I’m late in commenting on this article – it’s been sitting tagged in my Google Reader for over a week now, but I’ve only just gotten round to posting on it (excerpts, emphasis added):
KUALA LUMPUR: The 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report (AHDR) estimates that if women's employment rates were raised to 70%, countries like Malaysia, India and Indonesia would enjoy an increase in GDP between two and four per cent.
Such employment rate of women are only seen in the developed nations and the lack of women's participation in the workforce across Asia-Pacific costs the region an estimated US$89 billion every year...
Countries in the region that have done the most to tap women's talents and capacities have traveled farthest on many aspect of human development. Countries that tolerate deep inequalities fall short of equal citizenship and face social instability and economic loss...
Despite laws guaranteeing equal pay for work, the pay gap between men and women in Asia Pacific ranges between 54 per cent and 90 per cent.
In terms of economic power, a total of 67 per cent of East Asian women participate in the labour force, above the global average of 53 per cent, but South Asian women fall far behind, at only 36 per cent.
A majority of women in the region also, up to 85 per cent in South Asia, are in 'vulnerable' employment, such in the informal economy or low-end self-employment, far above the global average of 53 per cent.
More than 65 per cent of female employment in South Asia and more that 40 per cent in East Asia is in agriculture.
Yet, women in the Asia Pacific region head only seven per cent of farms, compared to 20 per cent in most other regions of the world.
Globally, Asia has the largest number of micro credit borrowers and highest percentage of poor women borrowers.
In Asia 98 per cent of micro credit borrowers in 2006 were women, compared with 66 per cent in Africa and 62 per cent in Latin America.
Meanwhile, the flow of women into business in Asia-Pacific is steady, up to 35 per cent of small or medium enterprises in the region are headed by women.
I’ve pointed out more than once that the female labour force participation rate in Malaysia is remarkably poor (here and here for instance). Note the last sentence I blocked out above – the global average is 53% and the East Asian average is 67%. Malaysia stands at just about 47%, worse than the global average and way below the regional norm. Wonder why Malaysia isn’t a high income economy and hasn’t been able to keep up with the Tiger economies? You’ve just found one big reason.
To be fair, this is largely a generational thing as the participation rate for females in the 25-34 age group is already very close to the East Asian average at 65%. The real big gap is in the older cohorts, with participation rates falling to under a quarter for females aged over 55 (compared to 60% for men). So this isn’t something that can be easily remedied through exhorting women to enter the work force – there’s a skill and experience gap that is probably to big to overcome.
On the flip side, we can look forward in 10-20 years to a much greater contribution from working Malaysian women towards economic growth and development in the future, as the population turns over and we get better average participation rates. That and the bulge of youngsters entering the work force in the next couple of decades is why I think demographic transition will be the main driver in transforming Malaysia into a high income economy - not new development models, or government incentives and subsidies, or lack thereof.