MANILA - Empowering women in the workforce can help Southeast Asia increase the size of its economy by as much as 30 percent by 2025, Australia's envoy for women said Tuesday.
Majority of working women in the region are in the informal sector and 100 million of them have no access to financial services, said Sharman Stone, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls.
Around 70 percent of small and medium businesses owned by women have little or no access to financing, resulting to a shortfall of around $285 billion, she said.
"Gender has not been a focus of ASEAN economic integration or political security plans to date. We need to change that. We need to unlock the potential of women in our region, there is simply no other alternative," Stone said.
Manila is hosting this week the ASEAN Women’s Business Conference, where participants are expected to release a statement calling on regional leaders to push for women empowerment.
Women in ASEAN, one of the world's fastest-growing regions, comprise 51 percent of the population.
The Philippines is a bright spot for gender inclusivity in the region. The country ranks 7th among 144 governments in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report.
Vietnam ranked 65th, Myanmar placed 85th while Indonesia was at the 88th spot.
The Philippines also has the highest number of women in top management positions followed by Vietnam and Indonesia.
An estimated 61.3 million women own micro, small and medium enterprises in ASEAN member countries, said Philippine trade undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya.
“Men are co-equals, we are not competing. We support each other. Men should be there to support, and give women an equal chance and opportunity to shine," she said.