Skip to main content

Social Development

Advancing Gender Equality and Women's Economic Empowerment

Over the past few decades, countries in Asia and the Pacific have made significant progress to empower women and girls, particularly in the key areas of educational access and women's health. However, despite these advancements, women and girls still face discriminatory policies and social and cultural barriers that restrict their economic and civic participation, impede their rights, and hinder their potential. Moreover, the region is witnessing growing disparities in income and wealth, further aggravated by technological transformation and the climate crisis, disproportionately affecting women and girls and placing them at increased risk of being left behind. 

These challenges are particularly pronounced in the economic sphere. Asia and the Pacific is the only region globally where the gender gap in labour force participation is increasing. Currently, only 43.6 per cent of women in the working-age population are economically active, compared to 73.4 per cent of men. Furthermore, 64 per cent of women in the labour force are employed in informal and vulnerable jobs, limiting their access to decent work, fair wages, and social protection. Additionally, women's disproportionate responsibility for unpaid and domestic work significantly limits their full participation in productive activities, with women in Asia and the Pacific spending at least 4 times more time than men on unpaid care and domestic work. 

Although the number of women entrepreneurs is increasing, they continue to face more challenges and barriers than their male counterparts. In most Asia-Pacific countries, the share of women-owned enterprises is lower than that of men, with women's enterprises being primarily informal and unregistered. Entrenched traditional gender roles, restricting legal frameworks, limited access to financing and networking, and lacking ICT and marketing skills threaten their businesses' development and success.  

Precise data is paramount for policymakers to address women's needs and track progress towards women's economic empowerment. However, in the Asia-Pacific region, almost all countries lack data on over 50% of the indicators necessary to monitor SDGs from a gender perspective, with gaps in key areas, such as violence against women, unpaid care and domestic work and key labour market indicators. This data deficit is particularly acute in the Pacific, with multiple island states having data for less than 3% of these indicators.


Our response

At ESCAP, one of our key priorities is to advance gender equality and empower all women and girls in Asia and the Pacific. As an inclusive intergovernmental platform, we bring governments together to address critical issues related to gender equality in the region, thus accelerating progress on Sustainable Development Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As such, we support Asia-Pacific countries to implement their commitments vis-a-vis the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and to follow up on the outcomes of the Asia-Pacific regional 25-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. 

Within the Social Development Division, we aim to realize inclusive and equitable societies that protect, empower, and ensure no one is left behind in Asia and the Pacific. We notably work to promote and protect the equal rights of women and girls, with a focus on enabling women's economic participation, through focused analysis, targeted programming, and technical support. We place particular emphasis on providing technical assistance in developing policies related to economic empowerment and entrepreneurship for women across Asia and the Pacific. Additionally, we support other subprogrammes in mainstreaming a gender perspective into ESCAP's organizational culture, structures, and processes.

Through this work, we expect strengthened institutional capacities and an enhanced policy environment for women's economic empowerment and gender equality, serving the rights of women and girls in Asia and the Pacific.


Our work 

ESCAP recognizes the crucial role of promoting women's economic empowerment to advance gender equality and address the challenges faced by women and girls in the Asia-Pacific region. We thus developed a twin-track approach, addressing unpaid care and domestic work and fostering women’s entrepreneurship. 


Papua New Guinea Woman teaching child

Valuing and investing in unpaid care and domestic work

The responsibility of unpaid care and household work falls disproportionately on women and girls around the world, and its unequal distribution is impeding the advancement of women's economic and social empowerment. On average, women and girls in the Asia-Pacific region spend up to 11 hours a day on unpaid care work, over 4 times more than men. Policies that recognize, reduce, and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work are critical to free up women's and girls' time and provide them with greater opportunities, including access to education, employment, and the ability to contribute to the economy.

To this end, ESCAP collaborates with governments in Asia and the Pacific to invest in the care economy. This includes supporting efforts to harmonise existing legislation toward the reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work, establishing national care systems that include affordable support services for children, older persons and family members with disabilities, and introducing the systematic use of gender-responsive budget initiatives.

ESCAP also published numerous papers on the care economy, such as the regional report on COVID-19 and the Unpaid Care Economy in Asia and the Pacific, How to Invest in the Care Economy: a Primer, and a global study titled Caring in times of COVID-19. The report Addressing Unpaid Care Work in ASEAN, launched at the 4th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in October 2021, strengthened collaboration with the ASEAN Committee of Women, paving the way for adopting the ASEAN Comprehensive Framework on Care Economy.  

In 2021, a Regional Forum on Addressing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work in Asia and the Pacific was convened, bringing all stakeholders together to guide the development of region-specific policies. Subsequently, ESCAP initiated targeted projects on the care economy with governmental institutions in Cambodia, the Philippines and Lao PDR, supporting capacity-building efforts of key stakeholders and the development of national frameworks for action.

Case studies were also developed for Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Uzbekistan


Bangladeshi Woman entrepreneur Promoting Women's Entrepreneurship in Asia-Pacific 

ESCAP's Beijing+25 Synthesis Report identified women's entrepreneurship as an engine for employment creation and poverty reduction. When accompanied by labour protections that reflect decent work standards and address unpaid work, entrepreneurship provides an essential channel for gender equality and women's empowerment. 

Although enterprises are the largest employers in the Asia-Pacific region and can play a decisive role in giving women the ability to access work, women entrepreneurs often face more challenges and barriers than their male counterparts. As such, one pillar of ESCAP's strategy to advance gender equality is through supporting efforts to foster enabling conditions for women's entrepreneurship by: 

  1. Ensuring the formulation and implementation of gender-responsive policies in Small and Medium Enterprise development and promotion. 

  1. Engaging financial institutions to increase women's access to credit and financial services. 

  1. Enhancing women's access to market information, networks, and services, including harnessing access to Information and Communication Technologies.  

ESCAP's regional initiative on "Catalyzing Women's Entrepreneurship" deploys a comprehensive approach aimed at creating an enabling environment for women to build and grow their businesses. The initiative focuses on enhancing access to financial services and capital, promoting the utilization of Information and Communication Technologies tools, and integrating innovative technologies into women's business operations. Funded by the Government of Canada, this regional initiative fosters collaboration among governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, and development partners. Its overarching goal is to mobilize support and increase investments in order to close gender gaps in economic participation and unleash women's creative potential.

The programme undertakes on-the-ground implementation activities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam with policy and advocacy support across South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific. To date, a total of 176,000 women entrepreneurs have benefitted directly from the programme through access to finance or acquiring enhanced digital skills to grow their business, exceeding the Programme outreach target by double. [Learn More]




Monitoring regional progress 

As mandated by ECOSOC, ESCAP is redoubling its efforts to review and appraise the progress made in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 ahead of its thirtieth anniversary. The Beijing Platform for Action is the most visionary agenda for empowering women and girls everywhere. Developed at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted by 189 governments committed to taking strategic and bold action in 12 critical areas of concern: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, and the girl child.  

ESCAP conducted the 25-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in the Asia-Pacific region in collaboration with UN Women and with the participation of governments and civil society organizations. This review process led to the adoption of the Asia-Pacific Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Beijing+25 Review by Asia-Pacific member States to ensure women's economic, legal, and social protection and full integration into all spheres of life. The upcoming Beijing+30 Regional Review, led by ESCAP, is the opportunity to strengthen gender-responsive action and implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific. Ahead of the Beijing+30 review, the Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2023, jointly produced by UN Women and UN DESA, provides a comprehensive analysis of gender equality progress globally across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.


Girls STEM educationDisseminating Gender Data and Information 

The lack of comprehensive gender data collection, production and dissemination hinders the development of gender-responsive economic and social protection policies.

To address this data gap, ESCAP actively supports the dissemination of gender data and information through its Asia Pacific Gender Equality Portal. This portal has been developed to support governments and other stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region in their efforts to realize gender equality and women's empowerment, particularly with respect to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and its regional reviews.

The portal serves as an interactive informative platform for all gender-related activities and initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region. It has an open-access and provides an extensive set of gender statistics, full-text policies, and educational induction modules. With this portal, ESCAP aims to support and facilitate research, analysis, and, ultimately, informed decision-making on gender equality.




Indian womenGender Mainstreaming at ESCAP  

ESCAP aims to lead by example by ensuring all its activities are gender-sensitive. As such, ESCAP is committed to integrating a gender perspective throughout the entire lifecycle of its initiatives, including preparation, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. It actively promotes gender equality and parity by enhancing gender mainstreaming through the full implementation of the System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP 2.0). The UN-SWAP serves as the central United Nations policy framework to enhance the institutional environment and deliver concrete outcomes on gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Moreover, ESCAP reports annually on the gender mainstreaming efforts undertaken by its various divisions, sub-regional offices, and regional institutions. This report highlights the institutionalized policies, mechanisms and plans that integrate gender considerations into ESCAP's organizational culture, structures, and processes. Beyond making our gender mainstreaming work across ESCAP more visible, it serves to encourage the whole of ESCAP staff members to systematically consider gender issues in their work. It presents ESCAP’s results on the SWAP report, gender tools and training devised to reinforce gender considerations within ESCAP, and different programmes and outcomes of commissions and committees related to gender. Please click here for the most recent ESCAP gender mainstreaming progress report. 

Recognizing the significance of gender knowledge in promoting gender equality and effective gender mainstreaming in Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP offers induction modules on gender equality. These modules aim to provide national and local institutions, as well as individuals interested in gender equality, with a comprehensive understanding of the principles, concepts, commitments, and challenges related to gender equality in the region. The induction modules contribute to advancing gender equality in the Asia-Pacific by creating awareness, fostering inclusive commitments to gender equality, and providing practitioners and stakeholders with a deeper understanding of gender issues. 

For Former Projects, please click here