Altering Status of Asian Women- Implications on Equality


Women in Asia…

Recent times have seen profound change in the status of women in Asia, thanks to the positive developments in the social, economic and political scenario. Women are continuing to make great strides in the society, contributing to the economy now, consequent to their increasing enrolment in colleges and pursuing career path. We should remember that not long back, the societal hierarchy never allowed women to behave without the expected deference to males. Even now, has the actual mentality of the society in Asian countries towards the women here changed at the basic level especially on equality?

Are you game for an unbiased and succinct analysis?

Gender roles created by cultural traditions still play a vital role on the status of Asian women thereby influencing their rights and gender (in)equality in turn. Till lately, only few women in Asian countries attended higher school and college education and fewer still worked outside home. Now more and women are attending colleges and fewer still have started taking up the career path along entrepreneurial lines quite seriously too, breaking the norms expected of them by the society to “settle” in to a married life- simply because that is what they want! At the same time, we have started seeing more married women entering SME (small and medium enterprises), as work from home moms or wives, no less determined, striving to carve a niche for themselves in the society, with family support mostly.

Let us take a closer look at the educational status of Asian women.

In many Asian countries, both East and Southeast, primary education has become universal for both genders. Since the mid-1950s, secondary education of women has been on the rise, particularly in East Asian countries. By the 1990s, in South and Southeast Asian countries, close to 60% of women were attending secondary school. By late 1990s, percentage of women attaining college education also vastly improved as compared with men in these countries, though the net total of women attaining college education remained lower than those completing school education. In general, obtaining vocational and academic qualifications necessary for a profession is more feasible in Southeast Asian countries.

What about employment opportunities over the years?

Along with the rapid economic growth of Southeast and East Asian countries, women’s employment has also seen marked improvement in the past 4-5 decades. This hold true particularly for Singapore. In those Asian countries like Thailand, where the agricultural industry plays an important role in the economy, participation of women labour force was more or less inevitable. Also in Asian countries where export oriented industries gained momentum, the involvement of women became invariable to meet with the demand of increased labour force and mind you, at reduced costs.

With the advent of 21st century, Asian women left the “mean” labour in the agricultural industry and started aiming for clerical and executive positions! Women entrepreneurship excluding SME has been steadily on the assent since the past decade thought the overall figure is still on the lower side of what is desirable. This scenario is seen only in countries which are more economically advanced like Japan, South Korea etc. while in countries with a poorly developed economy like Bangladesh, we see more women workforce still doing labour in the agriculture industry. Many of the women in poorer economies of South Asia are employed as domestic workers overseas. They also contribute quite a lot to their countries” economies by the frequent remittance of money to their families in their home countries. Also, quite a lot of professionally qualified women from Southeast Asian countries like India work abroad as nurses too.

As is evident, women contribute greatly to the economy in Asian countries.

But have Asian women gained economic independence yet??

Well, that is different cup of tea altogether. Closely aligned with this are more important matters like high mortality for girls and increasing female infanticide and selective abortion of female foetuses. The sad part is educated mothers consent to this abortion mostly under pressure from the families.

While it is true that the overall life expectancy of Asian women has improved, survival rate for women is lowest in South Asia and highest in East Asia. But in such countries, the problems related to old age like healthcare, financial support without spouse etc. loom large over these women as there is little or no support from the governments here.

In the families especially of low-lower middle socioeconomic background in some South Asian countries like India, male children receive better food and healthcare when compared to female children. In many societies sons are preferred and therefore many parents in China/India might not even report the birth of female babies giving them away for adoption! Worse still the mothers abort sometimes willingly too if they come to know that the foetus is female!

Will Asian women dare to break free of these constraints self-imposed and otherwise in the near future??

Southeast Asian women in particular are pragmatic and resilient by nature! They have taken advantage of the economic development and social modernisation immensely, yet changes in the attitudes that are deep-rooted through centuries of tradition and culture, is imperative to bring about improvements in Asian women’s status and balance the gender equality. Higher levels of education or income do not necessarily alter this attitude of male domination or preference for males. Legislation can help to some extent but social development in the form of education, media and more opportunities to work abroad which will give exposure to a different culture and society – these may bring forth the cultural transformation in course of time..


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