The gender gap is one of the most pressing labour market challenges facing the global community and closing it significantly by 2025 could add US$3.2 trillion to the Asia Pacific (APAC) economy.

That’s the assessment of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) report World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends for Women. The situation is even more pressing in east and south Asia – the only two regions in the world where female labour force participation rates have decreased over the past two decades.

In fact, over the past decade the labour force participation rate for men in eastern Asia has also declined by 1.3 per cent, alongside a drop in the female rate of two per cent.

The report estimates that if the gender gap in work participation rates was reduced by 25 per cent around the world by 2025 (a target set by G20 leaders in 2014), the global economy could be boosted by US$ 5.8 trillion dollars, of which US$3.2 trillion would benefit APAC.

“This could also unlock large potential tax revenues – an important consideration as the region adjusts to ‘new normal’ lower levels of economic growth,” said Richard Horne, economist in the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and co-author of the report.

The report stated that for serious progress to be made, “policy-making at a government level should be centered on expanding legitimate opportunities for women in the labour market, both in terms of quantity and quality. This could provide women with broad access to the occupation and employment type they want, unconstrained by gender stereotypes.”

However, familiar obstacles to female workforce participation arose in the ILO’s report; more than 20 per cent of female respondents in the APAC region cited ‘work/family balance’ as a major challenge to labour participation.

And around 22 per cent of respondents in east Asia – more than anywhere else in the world – cited ‘lack of affordable care’ as a challenge facing women wanting to work.

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