Breaking Barriers: Women Entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific

Aiming to address important issues such as the rising gender gap in economic and political settings, the Breaking Barriers session was organized with women entrepreneurs in the spotlight.

Philippine Undersecretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Zenaida Maglaya, Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs President Rokia Afzal Rahman, Prelo Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Fransiska Hadiwidjana, International Labour Organization Director Graeme Buckley, Veolia Japan K. K. President and Representative Director Yumiko Noda, and Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Takehiko Nakao served as the event’s panelists, moderated by BBC World News Presenter Sharanjit Leyl.

The Magna Carta for Women (Republic Act 9710), a law that seeks to eliminate discrimination through the recognition, protection, fulfillment and promotion of the rights of Filipino women, was highlighted in the session. The law aims to increase the number of women in third level positions in government to achieve a fifty-fifty (50-50) gender balance, while the composition of women in all levels of development planning and program implementation should be at least 40 percent.

In Bangladesh, the government provides support to businesswomen by giving loans. However, only small loans are offered, and this was identified as one of the major challenges in Bangladesh by Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs President Rokia Afzal Rahman. Former Yokohama Deputy Mayor Yumiko Noda also advocated for increasing female workers in Japan in hopes to equalize the gender roles in the country.

With scarce opportunities for women in various sectors in the Asia-Pacific region, a need for legislative changes to promote women leadership positions in organizations remain crucial in influencing change in governments as well as their policies. This is seen as the one of the solutions for the issue on the increasing wage gap between men and women.

In addition to guaranteeing substantive rights, the Magna Carta for Women also establishes the responsibility of the government to take actions in order to end discrimination against women. It provides that the Philippine government must “ensure the substantive equality of men and women” and mandates the state to take steps to review, amend, or repeal existing laws that are discriminatory towards women.

ADB estimated that closing the existing gender gaps could generate a 30 percent increase in the per capita income of an average Asian economy in one generation or 30 years, and 70 percent in two generations.

Under ADB’s Strategy 2030, the organization will place an even stronger emphasis on women’s economic empowerment. Infrastructure projects will maximize women’s access to markets and opportunities for skilled jobs. Through enhanced technical and vocational education and training programs, ADB will enable women’s access to quality jobs in non-traditional, higher-paying sectors. ADB will also expand integrated support for women entrepreneurs through better access to finance, the adoption of new technologies, and policy and institutional reforms.

By Rebekah Navarro

By Aileen Bautista

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