Asia-Pacific should tap women as engines of growth: President

Time spent on housework daily could count for $14.5t a year of global economy, she notes

President Halimah Yacob, in her Women's Forum Global Meeting speech, said women empowerment is not just an ideal of fairness but also makes economic sense. PHOTO: PRESIDENT'S OFFICE
President Halimah Yacob, in her Women's Forum Global Meeting speech, said women empowerment is not just an ideal of fairness but also makes economic sense. PHOTO: PRESIDENT'S OFFICE

The time that women in Asia-Pacific spend on housework daily could count for at least US$10.8 trillion (S$14.5 trillion) of the global economy annually, making them a powerful engine of growth that economies should tap in their post-pandemic recovery, said President Halimah Yacob.

In her speech yesterday at the virtual Women's Forum Global Meeting 2020, she noted: "Asian economies are sitting on a powerful and underutilised engine of growth. Advancing gender equality in Asia-Pacific could mean an extra US$4.5 trillion or 12 per cent of the collective annual GDP... this could also bring in an additional $26 billion to Singapore's annual GDP over the next 10 years.

"Promoting women empowerment is therefore not just an ideal of fairness, but also one that makes economic sense."

She added: "In Asia-Pacific, women spend four to 11 times more time on housework than men do daily. According to the UN Women Asia and the Pacific, such work could count for at least US$10.8 trillion a year of the global economy. However, the effort spent on this work is often unrecognised and undervalued."

Madam Halimah, in her speech at a plenary session titled "Governing the she-covery: Designing a better post-pandemic economy", highlighted three areas Singapore is focusing on for its economic recovery, and the critical role women can play in the process.

First, the country plans to accelerate its economic transformation and step up the use of digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence. "In order to reap the full rewards of technological advancement, we must continue to strengthen women's participation in leadership, and in the implementation of such strategies," she said.

She added that society has to move away from the traditional mindset that females do not prefer science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects in schools and do not perform well in related jobs. "We should ensure that women can benefit from these same opportunities and technological tools," she said.

Second, Singapore aims to help those in ailing industries transition to other industries by upgrading and acquiring new skills.

"By encouraging our workers to reskill and upskill, our companies can continue to stay relevant and competitive. And in so doing, it also offers us an opportunity to level the playing field between men and women in the workplace," said Madam Halimah.

Third, Singapore has to strengthen its partnerships and diversity, such as by having more cooperation between the private and public sectors and across different talent pools.

"We must continue to embrace diversity in women's leadership and highlight women's voices and perspectives," she said. "The recently launched Conversations on Singapore Women's Development is an important platform to spearhead an inclusive approach towards co-creating and co-implementing solutions on issues affecting women in Singapore."

The conversations, announced in September, are gathering feedback on issues that affect women at home, in school, the workplace and in the community. The ideas and suggestions will form the basis of a White Paper to be delivered in the first half of next year.

The two-day Women's Forum Global Meeting 2020, which ended yesterday, consisted of plenary sessions, dialogues and roundtable meetings.

Participants discussed how female leaders can play an essential role in social and economic recovery, while empowering and fostering long-term resilience among the vulnerable groups of people and the society at large.

The Republic hosted Women's Forum Singapore in 2018 and Women's Forum Asia last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2020, with the headline 'Asia-Pacific should tap women as engines of growth: President'. Print Edition | Subscribe