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The contributions of women to national economic growth are well understood. However, gender disparities in jobs and businesses continue to be a challenge that needs to be addressed globally. To examine how to mainstream women’s participation in economic activities, the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) held the Forum on Women’s Labor Force Participation and Productivity Enhancement in Tokyo, 5–7 February 2018. The forum was attended by 22 international participants from 14 APO member countries.
The three-day forum deliberated on government policies and best practices for promoting female labor force participation (FLFP) in productive economic activities in APO member countries. The project was funded by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to examine how to eliminate gender disparities and unconscious bias while promoting equality in the workplace. Participants also discussed the role of the public and private sectors in implementing government policies to promote FLFP.
Enhancing FLFP for productivity growth is a critical component of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that countries have committed to achieving by 2030. It was an important agenda item under the G7 Ise-Shima Leaders’ Declaration in 2016, stemming from the fact that the rate of untapped productive potential of women is almost double the rate for men.
Extensive research by the UN and other global agencies clearly indicates that the underutilized or unutilized potential of women adversely impacts national competitiveness, with repercussions on future economic growth and stability. In some Asian countries where the aging population coupled with declining birth rates poses grim prospects for labor shortages, the need to bring women into the labor force is greater than ever. In addition, prevailing cultural and policy biases against equal work opportunities for women may prevent them from finding gainful employment.
The APO has long endeavored to promote the participation of women in the labor force by sensitizing policymakers, government officials, and industry leaders to the importance of adopting more inclusive policies and programs to unleash the potential of women and enable them to contribute in various capacities to society. The Forum on Women’s Labor Force Participation and Productivity Enhancement is part of APO initiatives with a common agenda of strengthening women’s participation in the formal labor force for the overall development of member economies.
The forum was conducted by five APO international experts including Business School of Innovation Management Professor Dr. Hiroyuki Fujimura of Hosei University (Japan), Ministry of Finance and Mass Media Additional Secretary J.M. Thilaka Jayasundara (Sri Lanka), School of Labor and Industrial Relations Dean Dr. Ronahlee Asuncion of the University of the Philippines Diliman, Small Business Innovation and Wellbeing Associate Professor Dr. Sukanlaya Sawang of Queensland University of Technology (Australia), and Political & Social Affairs Bureau Manager Mizue Oyama of the Japan Business Federation.
The forum enabled participants to understand the role of the Japan Business Federation in encouraging FLFP among private-sector enterprises and the policies of the governments of Australia, Japan, and Sri Lanka in promoting women’s roles in economic development. Participants deliberated on the status and challenges of women’s empowerment and opportunities for women in management and leadership positions in the Asia-Pacific in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.