It is about time we increased the focus on the women’s role in the economy. For too long it has been in the periphery.
When the APEC Policy Support Unit released a 150-page report called the Women and the Economy Dashboard, it sought to objectively gauge the economic status of women in the region—half the population whose well-being is essential for true inclusive growth. The report studied a varied set of almost 80 measurements and conditions facing women in each APEC economy.
The paper, issued in 2017 and the second in a series, shows mixed progress. The good news: property rights in APEC are gender equal, and there is improved participation of women in the upper echelons of policy decision-making. The not-great news: gender discrimination in the workplace or in the recruitment process persists without counter-measure policies, and the number of women engaging in math and sciences still lags.
The dashboard—the next installment of which will be released later in 2019—tells us that much work remains ahead. It is also a reminder that efforts to achieve equal economic rights for women will require means beyond the regular platitude.
“Intuitively, folks can agree that having more women contributing to the economy is important,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat. “But what do you do about it? What are the initiatives?”
Dr Sta Maria, the first woman to hold this position, is aware of the significance of her appointment, and that it came only after 30 years into the forum’s history.
“What I bring is a visibility of the importance of the role of women,” she said, “and how women then can contribute and make better and more significant contributions to the whole system within APEC.”
Dr Sta Maria’s term, which started in January 2019, coincides with the start of Chile’s host year. The timing is doubly significant because Chile is the first economy to set women and inclusive growth as one of APEC’s priorities.
A host economy manages logistical support for the year’s activities and, more importantly, decides on policy priorities for the whole forum. Put simply, the host’s choice of focus influences the forum’s decisions on all its endeavors: projects, reports, workshops, and other initiatives. This involves how the resources of government officials are spent, which in turn influences the direction to be taken by future host economies.
It’s no small thing when Chile, under the theme “Connecting People, Building the Future,” prioritizes women, small and medium-sized enterprises, and inclusive growth.” Gender inclusion has already been mandated through the commitment of APEC Economic Leaders, issued in 2016, to strengthen “efforts to support the mainstreaming of gender equality and women’s empowerment across APEC’s work.” APEC Chile 2019 has cleared the way for concrete actions to uphold this mandate.
“It is about time we increased the focus on the women’s role in the economy,” said Dr Sta Maria. “For too long it has been in the periphery. The fact that Chile has decided to bring it to not just the mainstream but upfront—that says a lot about the chair for this year’s APEC.” Thanks to Chile, APEC may be closer to its goal of delivering more inclusive growth.