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Despite more women than men in Singapore completing secondary education, fewer attain tertiary qualifications. According to the latest MasterCard Index of Women’s Advancement, women in Singapore outnumber men in achieving secondary education with a score of 102.3 but this is not parallel to women achieving tertiary education (91.6), bringing the overall score for Capability to 95.7.

The Index measures the socioeconomic standing of women across 18 Asia Pacific markets and is comprised of three main indicators which are derived from additional sub-indicators: Capability (Secondary Education, Tertiary Education), Employment (Workforce Participation, Regular Employment) and Leadership (Business Owners, Business Leaders, Political Leaders). The scores show the proportion of women to every 100 men. A score of 100 indicates equality between the sexes.

Across the region, New Zealand ranked first (78.0) overall, followed by Australia (76.0) and the Philippines (71.4), while Singapore (70.0) came in fourth. At the other end of spectrum, Japan (49.5), Bangladesh (45.5), Sri Lanka (44.3), India (38.0) and Pakistan (23.4) had Index scores indicating that much more can be done to achieve gender parity.

Overall, there still exists a large gender gap that hinders women from achieving their full economic potential be it through participation in the workforce or presence in leadership positions, across Asia Pacific.

In Singapore, women leadership level is the top amongst Asia’s developed markets at 41.5, compared to Hong Kong (30.7), Japan (15.2), South Korea (19.5) and Taiwan (27.1). However, in comparison to Southeast Asia nations, Singapore comes in second to Philippines (47.2), followed by Vietnam (33.6) and Indonesia (26.7). Despite coming in second, Singapore showed the most marked advancement in women’s leadership in Southeast Asia since 2010 at 4.8 index points, with Philippines following closely behind at 4.0 index points.

In the area of employment, women in Singapore (110.5) have more employment opportunities than men although this is reflected otherwise in their participation in the workforce (74.5), bringing the overall score for employment to 86.3. This result is also seen in majority of the markets where regular employment opportunities outweigh workforce participation, except in three markets – Vietnam, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Deborah Heng, group head and general manager, MasterCard Singapore said, “Over the years, even though Singapore has outperformed its peers in Asia in narrowing the gender bias in the workplace, greater progress has been slow. Women in Singapore have done extremely well in achieving gender parity in employment opportunities, more consideration should be taken to help close the gender gap in other areas such as leadership roles, tertiary education and workforce participation. This will not only benefit women butSingapore’s economy as well.”

For the 10th consecutive year, New Zealand (78.0), Australia (76.0) and the Philippines (71.4) continue to have the highest overall Index scores.

  • Apart from the top three markets and Singapore (70.0), at least half of the markets in Asia Pacific had scores below the 50-point mark with Japan (49.5) and four South Asia markets – Bangladesh (45.5), Sri Lanka (44.3), India (38.0) and Pakistan (23.4) – among the lowest.
  • Compared to the previous year, women in New Zealand made the most progress overall (78.0, up 0.7 points), followed by Japan (49.5, up 0.5 points), Nepal (62.5, up 0.5 points) and Bangladesh (45.5, up 0.4 points), while declines were recorded in Sri Lanka (44.3, down 0.7 points), Malaysia (52.7, down 0.4 points) which reached the lowest it has in five years, and also in China (66.3, down 0.2 points).

Of the three components, Capability remains the strongest indicator of Asia Pacific women’s advancement towards gender parity for the tenth consecutive year with seven markets scoring 100 points (New Zealand, Philippines, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal).

  • With the exception of South Korea (86.6), Pakistan (86.2) and Bangladesh (89.3), the Capability index scores for all markets in the region are above 90.0.
  • Women in New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines and Taiwan have consistently been on par or better represented in secondary and tertiary institutions than their male counterparts since 2007.
  • Indonesia (99.1) and Hong Kong (98.5) continue to make positive steps towards greater educational attainment with their scores edging closer to parity.
  • On the other hand, women in Pakistan (86.2), South Korea (86.6) and Bangladesh (89.3) have much fewer opportunities than men when it comes to secondary and tertiary education.

Women’s progress in Employment remains broadly stagnant across Asia Pacific.

  • Of the 18 Asia Pacific markets, New Zealand (91.4), Australia (91.0) and Taiwan (90.7) continue to be the most economically active with highest access to regular formal employment. They are the closest to being on par with their respective male cohorts in terms of Workforce Participation and Regular Employment.
  • With the exception of Malaysia, women in developing markets such as Vietnam (90.2), China (83.2) and Thailand (80.4) are more likely to be working (formal or informal) than women in the advanced economies of Japan (69.6) and Korea (69.2).
  • The low Employment scores for Japan and Korea suggest that the cultural bias against women working is fairly strong in these societies. However, this trend is anticipated to gradually change in the coming years with the governments in both markets taking steps to raise the level of women’s participation in the workforce.

 Leadership remains the weakest component in women’s progress towards gender parity.

  • New Zealand (51.9) and Australia (50.2) are the only two markets with more than 50 women business owners/ business leaders/ government leaders for every 100 male business owners/ business leaders/ government leaders. The Philippines is not far behind at 47.2 points.
  • New Zealand saw the biggest increase in score from a year ago (51.9, up 1.3 points) while China (34.7), Malaysia (19.8) and Sri Lanka (13.1) recorded declines of 0.1, 0.6 and 0.7 points, respectively.
  • Of the 18 Asia Pacific markets, women in Malaysia (19.8), Korea (19.5), Bangladesh (17.2), Japan (15.2), Sri Lanka (13.1), India (12.2) and Pakistan (3.5) continue to face tremendous hurdles in making progress in leadership in the business and political spheres.
  • Notably, the Philippines (90.9) scores significantly higher than all other Asia Pacific markets for business leadership, with New Zealand (66.4) and Australia (56.9) trailing behind.
  • Business ownership is the highest among Nepalese women (72.5), followed by Australia (50.7) – these are the only two markets with more than 50 women business owners for every 100 male business owners.