Gender Equality for Sustainable Development

Gender Equality for Sustainable Development

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a visionary covenant for human progress. This aspirational agenda is built around the idea of “leaving no one behind” in the journey towards inclusive and sustainable development. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls [SDG 5] are decisive factors in transforming this vision into a reality, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, where gender gaps in economic and political participation persist. 

    The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) presents an intergovernmental platform wherein governments and other stakeholders in Asia and the Pacific, can capitalise to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as well as other global commitments on gender equality, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the outcomes of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Beijing Platform for Action.


    Education (targets 4.3.1, 4.5.1)

    Asia and the Pacific has made significant progress in achieving gender parity in primary education enrolment, and is nearing parity at the secondary and tertiary levels.  Eight member States have achieved parity at all three levels.  Apart from South and South-West Asia, women now outnumber men in tertiary institutions, with a regional gender parity index of 1.07.  However, continued challenges including the low quality of education, urban-rural disparities, limited resources, poor infrastructure and sociocultural barriers contribute to girls’ lower attendance and achievement rates. 

    educationEnrolment statistics available for educational pathways show that female representation is  markedly low in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  Female participation in STEM fields is often limited to certain disciplines, with their participation falling as the level of education increases.[1] For instance, in Mongolia, 73 per cent of students enrolled in biology were female as opposed to just 23 percent enrolled in engineering.  Key drivers of this trend include persistent gender stereotypes in teaching and learning materials; limited gender-responsive career counselling and mentoring opportunities; fewer female role models; as well as psychosocial influences moulded, in part, by social norms and parental expectations. The lack of women in STEM subjects has a detrimental impact on horizontal and vertical occupational segregation in the labour market. Women researchers, for example, are scarce in South Asia, which, at 17 per cent, has the lowest regional representation. Within STEM occupations, women are often concentrated in specific fields (i.e. life sciences) and at lower ranks with less job stability. 

    Sexual and reproductive health [targets 3.7.1, 3.7.2]

    In 2015, 86 per cent of married or in-union women had access to modern family planning services in the region, higher than the global average of 82 per cent.[2]  However, this figure masks inter-country disparities with a range from 32 per cent in Azerbaijan to 95 per cent in China. In most of the developing countries, contraceptive prevalence is lower among women who are poorer, rural or less educated in comparison to their richer, urban and more highly educated counterparts. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Thailand are exceptions, with contraceptive prevalence rates higher among the poorest 20 per cent of the population than they are among the richest 20 per cent.[3] In such countries, measures to expand family planning coverage have led to narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest households in rates of contraceptive prevalence. However, significant challenges remain for the entire region in reaching underserved populations, particularly women in rural and remote areas, and adolescents and youth. Continued challenges remain in reaching under-served populations, particularly women residing in rural and remote areas, as well as adolescents and youth.  The region has also made strides in reducing maternal mortality, with a 54 per cent decrease in the maternal mortality ratio between 2000 and 2015.  However, the number of women dying in childbirth is South and South-West Asia remains unacceptably high, accounting for 22 per cent of global maternal deaths.

    sexual and reproductive health

    Economic empowerment (targets 5.4.1, 5.5.2, 5.b.1, 8.5.1)

    Stemming from structural barriers and historically unequal power relations, women are not able to fully exercise their rights to decent work in the region. Female-to-male labour force participation ratios have declined in Asia and the Pacific, from 0.67 in 1990 to an estimated 0.61 in 2017, with South and South-West Asia registering the lowest level of participation.  Over 78 and 60 per cent of women workers in South and South-West Asia and South-East Asia, are concentrated in vulnerable employment, characterized by low wages, no formal contracts and often hazardous working conditions.[4]  Women are also systematically paid less than men for work of equal value, with the regional gender pay gap estimated to be 20 per cent. [5]

    Gender inequalities in access to and control over property, assets, credit and technology continue to be pervasive in the region. Despite a promising 61.3 million women entrepreneurs owning and operating businesses in ASEAN,[6] the proportions of women-owned MSMEs having good access to finance averages only 5 to 6 per cent for micro-enterprises, and 12 to 15 per cent for small firms. [7] Less than 10 per cent of agricultural land holders are women in Bangladesh, Fiji, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Nepal.  Additionally, women perform a significant share of unpaid care and domestic work, adversely affecting their labour force participation and wages. Women in the region devote between 2.4 and 6 hours on average per day for unpaid work, while men spend between 18 minutes and 2.3 hours. [8] Discriminatory legislation remains an obstacle for women, with widows and daughters having no inheritance rights in some countries in the region.  Women are 14 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than men in low- and middle-income countries across the world, with the gap most pronounced in South Asia where this figure stands at 38 per cent.   In addition, women perform a significant share of unpaid care and domestic work, which exposes them to time poverty and adversely affects their labour force participation and wages. Women in the region devote between 2.4 and 6 hours on average, per day for unpaid work, while men spend between 18 minutes and 2.3 hours. 

    ILO labor statistics
    Source: ESCAP based on ILO Labour Statistics Database see!\


    Women’s participation in decision-making and leadership (targets 5.5.1, 5.5.2)

    Women’s political representation in Asia and the Pacific continues to be low compared with other regions of the world.  As of 2018, the proportion of seats held by women in the national parliaments is 19.06% in the Asia-Pacific region, while the global average is 23.8percent.[1] Except in Timor-Leste, Australia, New Zealand, Nepal and the Philippines, the representation of women in parliament in Asian-Pacific countries fell below the internationally agreed upon target of 30 percent, with three countries reporting no women at all in their national parliaments.

    women participation
    Source: ESCAP based on Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Dataset on Women in National Parliaments; see 


    Beyond the political arena, data compiled in 2015 for 20 developing Asian economies showed that while women accounted for 40 per cent of the workforce, only 14.4 per cent of corporate boardroom members and senior managers were women. According to ILO, 33% of the overall management positions were held by women in the ESCAP region in 2017. This is an increase compared to the previous years; however, a growing body of evidence underscores that effectives women’s leadership at all levels of society leadership relies upon more than increasing the numbers of women in leadership, but also requires efforts to enhance the impact and quality of this leadership.

    Violence against women and girls (targets 5.2.1, 5.1.1)

    violence against womenViolence against women and girls (VAWG) is a severe manifestation of gender inequality and disrupts the health, survival, safety and freedom of women and their families across the region. Reporting on VAWG is limited due to such factors as stigma, shame, restricted access to justice and limited service provision. Available data indicates the proportion of women experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime varies across the region, with the highest prevalence in Kiribati and Papua New Guinea at 68 per cent.[1] Currently, only 34 countries in the region have dedicated domestic violence legislation, 14 have criminalized marital rape and 17 have national action plans on violence.[2]


    [1] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, A Complex Formula: Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Asia (Paris, 2015). Available from

    [2] ESCAP, ADB and UNDP, Asia-Pacific Sustainable Development Goals Outlook (Bangkok, 2017). Available from

    [3] United Nations Population Fund, The State of World Population 2017: Worlds Apart - Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality (New York, 2017).

    [4] ESCAP calculations based on ILO Trends Unit, Trends Econometric Models, prepared for the Global Employment Trends and related reports, Geneva, November 2015.

    [5] Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2016: SDG Baseline Report (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.17.II.F.1).

    [6] Fostering Womens Entrepreneurship in ASEAN: Transforming Prospects, Transforming Societies (United Nations publication, Sales no. E.17.II.F.20)

    [7] US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, US-ASEAN Business Council, USAID and ASEAN, Beyond AEC 2015: policy recommendations for ASEAN SME competitiveness (n.p., 2014).

    [8] United Nations Statistics Division, Allocation of time and time-use data portal. Available from (accessed 24 January 2018).

    [9] ESCAP calculations based on Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in national parliaments dataset. Available from (accessed 10 August 2018)

    [10] United Nations Population Fund, Violence against women-regional snapshot (2017) (Bangkok, 2017). Available from

    [11] United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and others, Mapping of data on violence against women in Asia and the Pacific, prepared for the Asia-Pacific UNiTE Secretariat, Bangkok, January 2018.

    Women’s Economic Participation

    Promoting women’s economic participation is a means to achieve empowerment. Such an empowerment requires the creation of an enabling environment which creates gestational conditions for successful involvement of women in economic activities. The gender-based inequalities in the labour market leads to severe negative impacts including lower productivity and income level, and thus, hinder economic development. Although the number of women entrepreneurs are increasing, they often face different challenges and barriers than their male counterparts. Improving the conditions for women’s entrepreneurship does not only enable women to empower themselves but it also contributes to inclusive and sustainable development through creating jobs, eradicating poverty and contributing to socioeconomic growth. 

    ESCAP’s efforts in this regard relate to a) ensuring the formulation and implementation of gender-responsive policies in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) development and promotion; b) engaging financial institutions to increase women’s access to credit and financial services; and c) enhancing women’s access to market information, networks and services, including through harnessing access to ICT.

    Two key knowledge products in this field from ESCAP are:

    Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship: Transforming Prospects, Transforming Societies

    fostering women entrepreneurshipEntrepreneurship is a key means through which women can both empower themselves and contribute to inclusive and sustainable development. A vital part of this agenda includes the 61.3 million women who own and operate businesses within the ten member States of ASEAN.
    It is the particular challenges and opportunities that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will bring to women entrepreneurs which provide the impetus and focus for this report. The measures set out in the AEC Blueprint 2025 are expected to affect the prospects for SME growth in various ways. 

    Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN: Transforming Prospects, Transforming Societies proposes critical actions that can be taken by ASEAN Governments to address the particular constraints facing women entrepreneurs — in association with the finance sector, entrepreneur associations, international agencies, civil society and other key actors — towards the realization of both the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the AEC Blueprint 2025.

    Women's Entrepreneurship: Lessons and Good Practices from Asia and the Pacific

    women's entrepreneurshipAlthough a number of challenges are faced by all micro, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs across the region, research and anecdotal evidence indicate that women are comparatively more often affected by these issues than men and with higher intensity. As a result of the additional barriers they face, many women entrepreneurs will be constrained from fully taking advantage of the opportunities for growth and development offered by the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which was introduced at the end of 2015. On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges facing SMEs in this context will be to remain competitive in the face of increased competition, particularly in the CLMV grouping of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Viet Nam. Women's Entrepreneurship: Lessons and Good Practices from Asia and the Pacific identifies lessons and good practices which enable women entrepreneurs within ASEAN to address these challenges and grow their businesses that this report has been produced. The foundations of the report are provided by a set of national case studies which examine the situation of women entrepreneurs, as well as the wider policy and institutional environments within which they operate, in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

    Additional Resources

    Asia-Pacific Beijing+25 Declaration and Report

    Beijing + 25The Asia-Pacific Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing+25 Review was adopted at a three-day Ministerial Conference, organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in November 2019.

    The Declaration recognizes women as key contributors and vital agents in combating poverty and inequalities, and calls upon governments to ensure inclusive social protection systems, public services and infrastructure. With its adoption, countries also committed to ensure women’s economic empowerment and the integration of women into the formal economy. Governments agreed to take appropriate measures and extend legal and social protections to ensure that all women and girls have equal opportunities for education, decent work, favourable conditions of work and financial inclusion.

    Gender and Environment

    The lives of a significant portion of the population in the Asia-Pacific region are inextricably tied to the use of environment for daily support and livelihood, especially women’s lives. Women play a pivotal role in all three dimensions of food security —availability, accessibility and utilization of food. Furthermore, the majority of the economically active women in the Asia-Pacific region; however, structural factors have restricted women farmers’ access to credit, irrigation and extension services and thereby negatively affected productivity. In addition to this, the lack of access to clean, reliable energy exacerbates the many challenges women face on a daily basis since clean energy has transformative potential to enhance productivity, health outcomes, and relieve the burden of housework.

    Gender, the Environment and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific is the gender and environmentfirst Asia-Pacific report that comprehensively maps out the intersections between gender and environment at the levels of household, work, community and policy. This report looks at gender inequalities as they relate to food and nutrition security and to the agriculture, energy, water, fisheries and forestry sectors in the Asia-Pacific region and draws multiple conclusions in the topic. 

    Persistent gender inequalities threaten to exacerbate maintaining food security in the Asia-Pacific region. Climate-induced weather variations coupled with deforestation require women and girls to travel greater distances to collect food and water and thereby divert time that could otherwise be used for income-generating activity. Worsening constraints will not only increase women’s time burdens, but also threaten to reduce nutrition for women and impact the educational attainment of girl children. 

    Structural biases must be eliminated to enable women to thrive in agriculture. If women had access to and control of the same resources as men, their contributions would increase food production by 2.5–4 per cent, which would be enough to move 150 million people out of hunger and poverty across the developing world. 

    Clean energy has transformative potential to enhance productivity, health outcomes, and relieve the burden of housework. The Asia-Pacific region today has at least 455 million people who lack access to electricity and more than 2 billion people still relying on biomass, or solid fuel, for cooking. Women, especially in rural areas, bear the brunt of energy poverty and are heavily impacted by the reliance on biomass, which is the single most important feature of the energy mix in the region. 

    Integrating gender concerns into policy making in agriculture, energy, water, fisheries and forestry sectors is critical to addressing gender disparity and enhancing women’s access to resources and economic empowerment. Actions to advance gender mainstreaming at the policy and programme levels include gender analysis and establishing gender targets and indicators within specific sectors, along with gender-responsive budgeting to support the equitable distribution of resources.

    Empowering women and creating enabling environments to foster women’s effective participation and leadership in the management of environmental resources will positively influence conservation and resource efficiency. Women’s participation and leadership are outcome-changing factors for the sustainable management of resources. Country-specific evidence in this report reinforces how empowering women in local decision-making over the conservation of forests and fisheries leads to better resource efficiency and conservation. Women’s leadership will make a difference in the sustainable management of resources, which is why the sociocultural factors that impede their ability to lead must be recognized.

    Gender-Responsive Budgeting

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls governments to commit to “a significant increase in investments to close the gender gap and strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women at the global, regional and national levels.” (A/RES/70/1, para 20) Gender-responsive budgeting can serve as a strategy to promote gender equality by focusing on revenue raising and spending of government finances.

    Budgeting appears to be a gender-neutral economic policy instrument; however, ignoring its gender-specific aspects leads to gender-blindness instead of gender-neutrality. Gender-responsive budgeting does not induce a separate budget for women or increased spending on women’s programs. It shows the governments’ engagement in promoting gender equality by the collection and distribution of public money.  The government budget is analyzed from a gender perspective to assess how it addresses the different needs of women and men, girls and boys, and different groups of women and men, and of girls and boys. Various forms of Gender-responsive budgeting initiatives can be found in at least 29 countries in Asia and the Pacific.  

    The “Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” was adopted by the member States of ESCAP in November 2014, in which “strengthen accountability systems” and “increase financing” were among the four key areas for action.  With a view to address the gaps in the areas of economic and productive sectors, sexual and reproductive health, and peace and security, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in collaboration with the Government of China is implementing a project to advance the adoption and implementation of gender-responsive budgeting (GRB) in the region. Through building the knowledge and skills of government officials from national women’s machineries, ministries of finance, national planning bodies as well as relevant line ministries, the project seeks to effectively institutionalize gender-responsive budgeting in their respective countries. Within the framework of this project, the booklet Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Asia and the Pacific: Key Concepts and Good Practices aims to serve as a useful resource for policymakers. 

    gender-responsive budgeting

    Gender-Responsive Budgeting in Asia and the Pacific: Key Concepts and Good Practices

    gender-responsive budgeting2A recent 20-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action highlighted the stark insufficiency of annual budgets for national women’s machineries in the region. Of 17 countries with available data, women’s machineries receive annual funding ranging from 0.003 per cent to 3.12 per cent of national budgets. Moreover, only 5 per cent of Official Development Assistance screened against the Development Assistance Committee’s Gender Equality Policy Marker targeted gender equality as a principal objective.The publication introduces the key concepts of gender-responsive budgeting as well as a guide for readers through the implementation of GRB in various stages of the budget cycle. Moreover, it provides an overview of the status of GRB adoption in Asia-Pacific as well as good practices and lessons learned from the region.

    Case Studies






    Tools and Methodologies

    Asia-Pacific Gender Equality Portal

    ESCAP has developed an online gender resource facility to support ESCAP member States in implementation of the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The online resource facility supports evidence-based policy formulation, governance practices, service delivery and practical initiatives that foster gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Asia-Pacific region.

    E-Government for Women’s Empowerment

    ESCAP, in partnership with the United Nations Project Office on Governance (UNPOG) of the Division for Public Administration and Development Management, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, is implementing a project on “e-Government for Women’s Empowerment” to enhance knowledge sharing and raise awareness of good practices in this area. By reviewing the three dimensions of the e-Government ecosystem, i.e. online service delivery, citizen update/participation and connectivity, the project has developed a study which examines how the potential of e-Government is being utilised to address the needs of women in their service delivery systems. The findings of this research study will inform the development of an online toolkit for policymakers and stakeholders. 

    Gender Data and Data Mapping


    ESCAP Statistical Database

    The 17 SDGs and 169 targets are monitored and reviewed using a framework of 232 global indicators developed by the Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs).  Data is key to successfully implement the SDGs and the set of indicators provides the quantitative basis for the review process. The 2017 Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data calls for a “data revolution” whereby the volume, speed and types of data produced are expanded, including through increased support for statistical systems and greater engagement and partnerships between citizens, governments and the private sector. 

    SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls consists of 9 targets and 14 indicators. Monitoring progress on gender equality in the SDGs will require access to quality gender data that are collected frequently and on a periodic basis.  But an assessment of gender data availability suggests there is a long way to go before this standard is met. One third of the gender-specific indicators cover ‘emerging statistical areas’ where measurement methodology is not well developed. Furthermore, for nearly half of the gender-specific indicators, the methodology is developed but country-level data are limited. 

    The IAEG-SDGs has developed a classification system that groups the SDG indicators based on methodological development and overall data availability into three tiers: 

    • TIER I: Indicator conceptually clear, established methodology and standards available, and data regularly produced by countries.
    • TIER II: Indicator conceptually clear, established methodology and standards available, but data not regularly produced by countries.
    • TIER III: Indicator for which there are no internationally established methodology or standards yet available. 

    Data mapping links the indicators to available datasets making the SDG implementation and monitor progress easier.  Apart from direct links it includes the Tier classification and the UN specialized agencies that cover the specific areas as well. The ESCAP Statistical Online Database and Global SDG Indicators Database provide access to data compiled through the UN System for the follow up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.



    Data Source

    Tier Classification


    Whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex

    World Bank, OECD SIGI, UN Women

    Tier II


    Proportion of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months, by form of violence and by age


    Tier II


    Proportion of women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to sexual violence by persons other than an intimate partner in the previous 12 months, by age and place of occurrence


    Tier II


    Percentage of women between the ages of 20 and 24 who were married or in a union before the age of 15 and before age 18


    Tier II


    Proportion of girls and women aged 15-49 who have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting, by age


    Tier II


    Proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work, by sex, age and location

    UN Women, UNSD

    Tier II


    Proportion of seats held by women in (a) national parliaments and (b) local governments

    IPU, UN Women with the support of UN Regional Commissions

    Tier I(a) / Tier II(b)


    Proportion of women in managerial positions

    ILO, IPU, UN Women, UNODC

    Tier I


    Proportion of women aged 15–49 years who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care


    Tier II


    Number of countries with laws and regulations that guarantee full and equal access to women and men aged 15 years and older to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education

    UN Women

    Tier III


    Proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure

    FAO Gender and Land Rights Database

    Tier II


    Proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control

    FAO Gender and Land Rights Database

    Tier II


    Proportion of individuals who own a mobile phone, by sex


    Tier I


    Proportion of countries with systems to track and make public allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment

    UN Women, OECD, UNDP

    Tier II

    Overall, 54 out of the 232 indicators are gender-specific, meaning they are targeted at women and girls, explicitly call for disaggregation by sex or refer to gender equality as the underlying objective. Only one quarter of the gender specific indicators can be found in SDG 5.

    Unless gender is mainstreamed into national statistical strategies and prioritized in regular data collection processes, gender data scarcity and gaps will remain. This means that the provision of greater political, technical and financial support to producers of official statistics must be at the heart of the data revolution.

    Gender-Specific Indicators across the 17 sustainable development goals

    gender-responsive budgeting3
    Source: UN Women: Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 2018
    Gender Equality for Sustainable Development