Handa Center Research Fellow Shreyasi Jha has spent the past year researching the effects of the economic integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on women. With a vision of free trade in goods and services, as well as free movement of labor across the bloc's 10 member nations, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) officially took effect on Dec. 31, 2015, though full implementation will take time. ASEAN boasts a joint population of 600 million and an economy of about US$2.4 trillion.
Jha cautions, however, that the integration will not benefit women equally without some major policy changes. An excerpt from a recent op-ed. in Singapore's The Straits Times:
"The main reason why women will most likely not be largely affected by a boost in trade, investment and skilled labour integration is that for a vast majority of the women, these are not sectors that affect their lives.
"By and large, there are vast inequalities in women's labour force participation in the ASEAN countries that inhibit them from taking advantage of the opportunities created by the AEC or other jolts in the job market. Women's employment is relatively stable, and consistently lower, than men's. Unless targeted interventions are undertaken immediately, the AEC or any other economic market jolt will leave the women in ASEAN unaffected.
"Stripped down to the bare bones, the issue of women's limited and poor quality participation in the ASEAN economic community is a labour market problem. Despite having a large supply of female labour, skilled and unskilled, women are not proportionately represented in the various professions and sectors in the ASEAN countries."
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