Counting women into the workforce

July 30, 2015


Women play an increasingly important role in Asian economies. Yet most work in the informal sector, where wages are low and there are few social protections.

Many programs are targeting women’s perceived skills gaps, to better equip them for the workplace. Yet for many reasons, they are not always able to participate in or benefit from training programs. For example, rural Pakistan has some of the widest gender gaps in education and employment in the world.

The Government of Punjab has designed skills training programs to increase women’s employability, but many women cannot take advantage of them. Through the Growth and Economic

Opportunities for Women (GrOW) program, a multi-donor initiative managed by IDRC, researchers are studying the factors— such as restrictive social norms and unsafe transportation — that keep women from attending. Their research will shed light on the cost-effectiveness of training programs and identify interventions most likely to increase enrolment.

Similarly, in northern Bangladesh, researchers are evaluating an innovative training and job placement program to see what incentives work best in linking rural residents to secure factory jobs. The program, launched four years ago by a local NGO, involves skills training and a stipend, followed by an internship at a garment factory. Participants receive mentoring and help finding a good job. To date, more than 90% of graduates have found work. Research focuses on why some drop out and aims to identify which elements — the stipend, training or mentoring — contribute most to success.

Manufacturing jobs offer higher pay across all economies, but they are out of reach for most Asian women. While women in China and Vietnam have made some gains in manufacturing, their counterparts in many parts of South Asia lag behind. The Delhi-based Institute for Human Development (IHD) spearheads the South Asian Research Network on Labour (SARNET) which tracks and documents South Asian labour conditions through timely reports. Its upcoming 2016 South Asian Labour Report will discuss how the varying growth of employment in the manufacturing sector reflects wider economic constraints on women’s employment: only 4.9% of working Nepali women are in manufacturing versus one in four in Sri

Lanka, where the garment trade is thriving.

Besides manufacturing, what industries might provide well-paid jobs for South Asian women? Some will come from services, says Dr Preet Rustagi of IHD, and women will need new skills and training to compete.

Learn more about how IDRC-supported research is creating better jobs for Asia

For more information:

Photo of Preet Rustagi at IDRC
"Jobs are going to be in the service sector […] in the booming malls that are coming up, in all the billing counters. The new jobs […] need basic competencies, some basic level of education, maybe graduation and even beyond."

Dr Preet Rustagi, Institute for Human Development