All that talk of gender equality has not helped bridge the gap between the number of working women and men in South Asia.
Only 36 per cent of employable women are actively engaged in the labour market compared to 82.2 per cent men. This is the third-largest gender participation gap in the world, behind only the Middle East and North Africa, a latest report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Global Employment Trends has revealed.
Worldwide, the number of unemployed people was at a historic high in 2006 despite strong global economic growth, the report said. In South Asian countries, the overall unemployment rate rose from 4.4 per cent in 1996 to 5.2 per cent in 2006. In the past decade, unemployment among women has increased from 4.9 per cent to 6.2 per cent while unemployment rates among men has moved from 4.2 to 4.9 per cent in these countries.
Countries in South Asia include Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
The good news is that in terms of economic growth, the South Asian region's overall GDP grew at a robust 7.9 per cent (although this is down from 8.2 per cent in 2005 and the rate is expected to fall again in 2007). The problem is that the growth rate is not creating enough employment to absorb the expanding labour force.
The reports points out that South Asian economies are different from the rest of Asia because they are less integrated into global markets. “They remain strongly dependent on agriculture and the sector still accounts for more than half total employment,’’ the report said.