Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Experts discuss how to empower Asia's women

WORKING FOR WOMEN The panelists said that lack of females in high management, the gender gap in wages and balancing work and family were common problems

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Authorities in many cities in Asia are striving to enhance the social and economic status of women through empowerment programs, panelists said during a symposium on women's social participation held in Taipei yesterday.

Representatives of government and non-governmental organizations from five Asian cities -- Taipei, New Delhi, Seoul, Tokyo and Marikina in the Philippines -- discussed women's empowerment programs at the symposium.

One of the first issues that women in these cities face is their changing role in society caused by rapid industrialization, Deputy Taipei Mayor Samuel Wu (吳秀光) said during his brief address to open the meeting.

In Delhi a large percentage of women are living in poverty, unemployed and illiterate, some do not know where to find help.

"[Approximately] 40 percent of the total population of women [are] living in slum areas in Delhi," Delhi Social Welfare Department Director Jayshree Raghuraman told the gathering. "There's a gender gap in work participation rates and literacy levels and the lack of awareness of the availability of services in general."

In addition, some of the women fall victim to sexual harassment and crime, Raghuraman said.

Determined to solve the problems, Delhi municipal authority launched an initiative in 2001 that actively reached out to women in poverty, identified their issues and intervened, Raghuraman told the conference.

"It was found that the first step in empowering women was to provide them with healthcare," Raghuraman said. "Apart from health issues ... the women needed a lot of counseling about their legal rights as well as income augmentation to relieve their pecuniary problems."

Through gender resource centers, self-help groups and community volunteer associations, there have been several visible positive outcomes.

In a 2005 survey, 98.92 percent of the women said they had easier access to a doctor, while 93.23 percent said they were satisfied with volunteer legal counseling and 37.37 percent said they were satisfied with volunteer employment assistance, Raghuraman said.

In Tokyo, however, women's community involvement, their economic role and the balance between family and work are the issues.

Naoe Osato, director of Tokyo Gender Equality Office, said Japanese women rarely served as community leaders "because traditional values believe that men should be in leadership positions," Osato said.

Chen Man-li (陳曼麗), president of the National Alliance of Taiwan Women's Associations said the same scenario plays out in Taiwan.

"Many women are willing to serve the community, but unwilling to become leaders -- it's because there's not enough support from society and from their families," Chen said. "Women should be given more encouragement so that they can be confident in their ability to lead."

The panelists also discovered that lack of females in high management positions, the gender gap in wages and finding a balance between work and family after having children were common problems in Asia.

Chen and Osato both agreed that governments should create a more female-friendly work environment through legislation to combat gender discrimination, create childcare networks and provide counseling services for women.

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