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Etching a dominant role for women

ASEAN businessmen support deeper and stronger women engagement in entrepreneurship in a panel discussion billed, “HE Stands for Gender Equality.” Included in the all-male panel are (from left): Jonathan Allen Yabut, founder and managing director JY Consultancy and Ventures; Max Loh, managing partner, ASEAN and Singapore Ernst and Young; Christopher Buono, managing director, UPS Philippines; Roman Militsyn, president, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp.; and moderated by lawyer Adel Tamano, vice president for public affairs and communication of Coca-Cola Philippines.

MANILA, Philippines — The just-concluded ASEAN Women’s Business Conference has formalized resolutions called the Manila Statement that, if adopted by the ASEAN Leaders Summit in November, will etch a dominant role for women in the bloc’s economies in the years to come.

As it were, ASEAN businesswomen have been dominating the world of small and medium enterprises and micro SMEs, owning about 70 percent of these ventures.

“The Philippines has made good on its commitment to the principle of gender equality as reflected in our institutions,” said Trade Undersecretary for Trade and Investments Promotion Nora K. Terrado who chairs the ASEAN Committee on Business and Investment Promotion.

“With this conference, we are calling for stronger policy support and more initiatives for the economic empowerment of women in the ASEAN region as it is integral in achieving an inclusive, innovation-led growth in the regional community,” she said.

 In the ASEAN region, over 60 million women own MSMEs or easily 10 percent of the population of the regional economic bloc. 

SME Corp. of Malaysia, under the Ministry of Trade, has been helping women-dominated SMEs in that country to ensure that they will succeed.

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 Avoiding gender bias

Hafsah Shahim of SME Corp. said that in Malaysia, 98 percent of business establishments are MSMEs, which constitute 36.7 percent of the gross domestic product. Comparatively, in Germany, it’s 57 percent while it’s 50 percent in Japan, and these all contribute 60 to 70 percent of employment in these countries. 

 According to the Study on the Projected Gender Impact of the ASEAN Secretariat, in order to reap the full benefits of trade expansion and economic integration, trade and non-trade policies and programs need to avoid bias toward a particular sex or social gender.

Another study by McKinsey Global Institute in 2015 showed the world would gain $28 trillion by 2025 with the elimination of the disparities borne by women in the work force. This value is greater than that of the combined economies of the US and China in 2016.

The forum discussed the future direction of women’s roles not only in their own communities but also in the region’s economic growth potential,” said Pacita Juan, AWEN chair.

Empowering women in the workforce can help Southeast Asia increase the size of its economy by as much as 30 percent by 2025, said Sharman Stone, Australia’s envoy for women and girls. Juan also cited that “majority of working women in the region are in the informal sector and 100 million of them have no access to financial services.”

Stone said 70 percent of small and medium businesses owned by women have little or no access to financing, resulting in a shortfall of around $285 billion. She stressed the need to “unlock the potential of women in the region.”

 Opportunity to shine

Trade Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya earlier said that in terms of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, the Philippines ranked seventh among 114 governments while neighboring Vietnam is 65th; Myanmar, 85th, and Indonesia, 88th.

 Maglaya estimated that 61.3 million women from ASEAN member-countries own micro, SMEs.

“Men are co-equal. We (women) are not competing. We support each other. Men should be there to support, and give women an equal chance and opportunity to shine,” Maglaya said.

The ASEAN Women Business Forum was jointly organized by the Department of Trade and Industry, the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network and the Philippine Commission on Women.

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