Good time in Asia to change gender norms

Good time in Asia to change gender norms
Lim Qing Ru is one of the co-founders of Zopim, a chat messaging widget for websites.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Women in Asia have come a long way. In the tech sector alone, there are women who have inspired us and changed the way we live.

We can thank the women in accelerator programmes and those running social entrepreneur platforms for new products continuously rolled out across the region.

We can thank Ms Lim Qing Ru, who paid herself a meagre $410 a month for two years in order to build Zopim, which allows us to easily chat real-time with e-commerce sites.

And the explosion of cab hailing apps in this region is due in part to female entrepreneur Tan Hooi Ling.

Read also: Why more women are needed in the workplace

We are seeing women rise through the ranks in business, technology and government. There is no better time to be a woman in Asia than now.

Women here are now safer, more prosperous and afforded more opportunities than before.

But "before" did not set the bar very high. Despite the accomplishments of women leaders in this region, Asian women still face great challenges.

Read also: S'pore ranked 5th best place for women entrepreneurs

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), they continue to, on average, earn 30 per cent to 40 per cent less than men.

Euromonitor said Asian women could earn up to 41.2 per cent less than men by 2030 - higher than global estimates of 35.7 per cent - and Asia might be the only region in the world with deteriorating gender income inequality for this period.

According to the World Economic Forum, more than a quarter of a billion women have entered the labour force in the past 10 years - the total up from 1.5 billion to 1.75 billion worldwide.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 of the United Nations 2030 global agenda sets out to achieve gender equality and female empowerment.

Read also: Air India first to introduce women-only seats on planes

The achievement of SDG 5 requires the use of information and communications technology (ICT).

SDG 10 - reducing inequalities - connects, in equal measure, to the active inclusion of women and girls in education, social and economic spheres.

It is an inclusion ICT effectively drives.

Asia loses between US$16 billion (S$22.6 billion) and US$30 billion annually as a result of gender gaps in education and employment.

According to the International Labour Organisation and ADB, the region reportedly loses between US$42 billion and US$47 billion annually due to women's limited access to employment opportunities.

Eliminating gender disparity in the region would increase per capita income for all by 70 per cent in roughly 60 years, and that is something everyone should be able to get behind.

POWER OF TECHNOLOGY

Throughout my career in sustainability and working for a company with six major Asian markets that have made enormous progress in the last decade, I can attest to the inclusive power of technology.

I witnessed financial services offered to millions of Pakistani women for the first time through Easypaisa, the country's first mobile banking programme.

I have seen education made possible for women and children through programmes such as telco Dtac's Best Start Program as well as Grameenphone and Jaago Foundation's Online Schools in Bangladesh, which connect teachers with remote communities via the Internet.

And younger women are using technology to their advantage - Malaysian film-maker Nora Nabila's Young Changemakers project uses film to give the marginalised communities a voice.

Her peer, Ms Christine Cheah, had an idea for a cancer screening application, which has since been taken commercially across Malaysia.

Pakistani social entrepreneur Mehroze Munawar leverages data science to drive digital literacy programmes to help Pakistani youth better access online opportunities.

A major 2016 report by KPMG found that communications technology promotes entrepreneurial activity of women, improving business practices and overcoming gender barriers.

This is corroborated by two-thirds of working women, who reported that having a mobile device would give them greater access to business and employment opportunities.

The Internet's ability to enable access and reduce cost barriers for such young female pioneers is essential in a world where remuneration inequalities still exist.

With the right knowledge, a world of opportunity - of female-empowered initiatives and gender-neutral marketplaces - is at their fingertips, where outputs are judged solely on quality and void of predisposed discrimination.

The issue of female empowerment has never been more relevant in Asia, particularly in South-east Asia.

As the world's fastest growing Internet market - adding 3.8 million new users a month - the creation and growth of digital economies and women's empowerment should go hand-in-hand.

Digital innovation has the greatest ability to counteract income equality projections and accelerate inclusion. It is a virtuous circle that feeds itself as it brings more women and disenfranchised people into the fold.

We have the ability to rewrite society's gender code now.

I sleep better at night knowing that whatever path my daughter may choose, the rise of female inclusion through digital innovation around the world will provide more gender-neutral opportunities and mute, if not eliminate, the age-old - and frankly no longer acceptable - narratives of "before".

The writer is senior vice-president and head of group sustainability at Telenor Group. This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.


This article was first published on Mar 09, 2017.
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