Statement by Robert Piper, UNDP Resident Representative at the Launch of the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2010, POWER, VOICE AND RIGHTS: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific

Mar 8, 2010

Statement by Robert Piper, UNDP Resident Representative at the Launch of the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2010, POWER, VOICE AND RIGHTS: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific
March 08, 2010

POWER, VOICE AND RIGHTS: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific

8 March 2010

Honourable CA members, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome all of you to the official launch of the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2010. I would especially like to say thank you to our Chief Guest, Honourable Ms. Binda Pandey, Chairperson of the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly for her presence and keynote speech, and to the other honourable members of Constitutional Assembly, representatives from the Government and donor agencies, civil society, and media for your participation and interest in this Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2010.

The Asia-Pacific Human Development Reports have become a regular series under the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. The Reports provide continuing analyses of critical long term development issues relevant at both regional and national levels.

This year’s theme, Gender Equality, is highly relevant in the Asia-Pacific Region, as well as the Nepal context. Like its global sisters, the Human Development Reports, the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report Series offer the region an important forum for further dialogues and to structure debates to support a people-centered agenda.

The Asia-Pacific region often ranks low on gender indicators. While overall progress has been made on adult literacy, secondary school enrolment, labour force participation, and political representation, gender gaps still remain.

Taking my cue from the three main themes of the report, let me attempt to illustrate some of these gaps.

The first theme covered in the report deals with the positive effects of Building the Economic Power of women. This means giving women the opportunities to earn their own money. And more and more studies show that gender equality is good economics. Keeping women off the labour market simply costs money. Increasing their participation in the labour market will boost a country?s income, more so in countries with low current participation.

But the fact is that women are disadvantaged in paid work. So even if they do work, they earn much less than their male equals. In Nepal, women earn only 60% of what men earn, doing the same jobs. About 67% of women from East Asia and the Pacific participate in the labour force, but South Asian women are far behind at only 35%. Additionally, the majority of women in the South Asian region (up to 85%) are in jobs with little or no job security.

Giving women economic opportunities also has an effect on gender-based violence - a problem common to the Asia-Pacific region. When women develop a stronger position to bargain and negotiate within their homes, it reduces their dependency on male relatives and frees them to make possibly different choices ‘ including getting out of oppressive situations ‘that can improve their own welfare as well as that of their children and families.

The second theme of the report is Promoting the Political Voice of women. Political decision-making touches all areas of human development and many aspects of people’s daily lives. Access to the political arena is essential for men and women to articulate and shape solutions that unleash progress for themselves and society at large.

The public policy decisions that the government makes have fundamental implications on gender equality outcomes as they define the extent of opportunities and entitlements for women and men, democratic space for civil society and for representing the interests of social groups with less representation, and delivery of social services.

The Asia-Pacific region has the second-lowest representation of women in parliaments in the world, only ‘beaten’ by the Arab region. Only about 1/3 of countries in the region have a women quota system to enhance women’s participation in politics. Nepal’s progress in women’s political representation is noteworthy and the 1/3 secured representation of women in the Constituent Assembly is a model for replication around the world. On average countries in the Asia-Pacific region have only 15-18 percent female representation in parliament.

The third and final theme covered in the report is Advancing Legal Rights of women. A country’s legal system touches every aspect of human development, human rights and gender equality. In regulating rights and imposing duties, the law and legal practices influence how women and men seek opportunities and make choices to better their lives.

They affect the capabilities of men and women and determine physical security, relations within the family, workplace conditions and voice in public discourse. The ability to access the justice system also has an impact on whether or not these laws actually affect people’s lives.

Women cannot enjoy equal human rights as long as the region’s legal systems are influenced by contradictory forces, including colonialism, religious and moral values, and social customs. Even when there are equitable laws, they are not necessarily translated into equality in practice.

Gender-based violence is pervasive with more than one-tenth of women in the Asia-Pacific region reporting assaults by their partners. Nearly half of the South Asian countries lack laws on Domestic Violence. Nepal, commendably, adopted the Domestic Violence Act in 2009 and embarked on the implementation of a multi-sectoral anti-domestic violence programme across the country.

My colleague, Ms. Kasumi Nishigaya, will walk us through some of the details of the key findings and messages from the Report related to these three themes

Before she does that, let me end by mentioning some of the recommendations that the report presents:

First, to boost gender equality in economic power, labour market reforms are advocated to narrow wage gaps, improve working conditions and contractual status, address and count unpaid care work and not treat women as ‘burdens’ to the economy.

Second, to harness democratic dividends, governments and political parties should boost the number and quality of women’s representation to deepen democracy.

Third, in order to ensure equal legal rights for women and men, the Report calls for support to legal reform and synchronization of what appears to be contradictory legal webs for real justice, and to improve access to justice for all and for women in particular through orienting police and the judiciary. As you all may know, both measures are well under way in Nepal.

The bottom line is that across Asia and the Pacific, women face severe deficits in power, voice and rights. Progress in some areas is negated by prevailing and persistent gender inequalities, depriving the countries in the region of a significant source of human potential.

In order to achieve gender equality, no single measure is sufficient. It takes a multi-pronged approach, involving all levels of government and all sectors. I remain hopeful that the findings of this Report can inform the important policy debates which are taking place in Nepal over the coming months and years

Thank you all for your attention.