This briefing focuses on the opportunities and levers to unleash the potential of women, who present an immediate and sizable opportunity for Asia and the Gulf.

Improving the education and workforce participation of women in the region is good for society, productivity, and the economy. Expanding opportunities and breaking barriers for women in Asia and the Gulf will help replenish the workforce and equip the next generation of leaders.

First, boosting basic education for women in some economies can help them build fundamental skills for meaningful workforce participation. In large developing economies, such as in South Asia, educational access for girls remains an issue. Women are consigned to work low-level unskilled jobs without opportunities for upward mobility because they lack a basic education. In these countries, an increase in funding for women’s basic education and vocational training, with a focus on literacy, would provide women with the skills necessary to participate more fully in the workforce.

Second, encouraging workforce participation of highly-educated women will be good for economic growth and social progress. While women in many countries are equally if not better-educated than men, conservative cultures and social expectations undermine employment opportunities and are key factors that have discouraged women from entering or remaining in the workforce. By better supporting those who are qualified and desire to work, economies and businesses will be able to better utilize human capital in their countries.

Third, broadening female leadership in business and government boosts economic performance and improves decision-making in organizations. In mature Asian economies such as Hong Kong, female workforce participation is relatively high, but female representation in leadership positions continues to be unequal and actual or perceived wage gaps for similar work remain. Commitment and role modeling from the top to encourage professional development and advancement of women can help raise the status and build capacity of female talent.

Asia and the Gulf are poised to achieve continued economic and social progress, and women represent an immediate and large opportunity. Governments, businesses, and civil society must make a concerted effort on various fronts so that women can participate on equal footing with men.

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