MANILA -- While women empowerment continues to encourage more people towards pushing equality for women, there remains a gap that needs to be addressed.

For one, a study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that drop in gender gaps in the labor force as well as employment rates is so small, with chances for women to join the labor market at nearly 27 percentage points lower against their men counterpart.

“Between 1995 and 2015, the global female labor force participation rate decreased from 52.4 to 49.6 percent. The corresponding figures for men are 79.9 and 76.1 percent, respectively,” the report Women at Work Trends 2016 said.

Based on the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report for 2016 the Philippines ranked 7th among the 144 countries included in the report as having the highest equality rate, with a score of 0.78.

On top of the list is Iceland with a score of 0.874 while the second Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) country with the highest rank is Lao PDR with a score of 0.724, which in turn is similar with that of Jamaica.

United Nations Undersecretary-General and the 10th Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, during one of the panel discussions on the ongoing ASEAN Business and Investment Summit 2017 (ABIS 2017), said measures towards women empowerment have improved the lives of females in the economy and the workplace.

She said “the story varies a lot across the Asia Pacific” but cited the ASEAN as a leader on this front.

She said the rising economic importance of the region comes with the improvement of women’s participation.

“It’s definitely high against other emerging markets and sub-region,” she said.

For the Philippines, she said the share of females on the leadership ladder is high at around 14 percent on the average, followed by Malaysia and Singapore.

“But I have to say that like other good story there are some areas that we need to touch on,” she said.

Akhtar, who served as the 14th Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, thus, advised women to always give out their best and prove their worth.

“I think the issue, when you are a woman involved in the government or private sectors, is you’re not there because you think you are a woman to get special treatment but to operate normal and operate with the skills that you have,” she stressed.

During the same panel discussion, ASEAN Business Advisory Council (BAC) member Teresita Sy-Coson said Filipino women in the workforce are fortunate because gender issues “is not much” in the country, citing that 48 percent of the total workforce is accounted for by female workers.

She said that although women get lesser wages compared to men, this is partly because of the former’s decision to take a leave or totally give up their jobs once they start having children.

She urged women workers to “just focus on what you want to do” and “forget inequality”.

“What is important is the knowledge, hard work and determination. Forget the inequality issue,” she said.

“Differences are what make things more interesting,” she pointed out.

Asked on her take on crisis management, the vice chairman of the one of the country’s conglomerates -- SM Investments Corporation -- whose husband died in 2003 said that “after any crisis life must go on.”

She said women must master their crafts to be able to reap its fruits later on.

“Crisis come but it’s how you look at life (that will make you succeed),” she added.

Women’s participation in the economy has been noted, especially in the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector.

Datuk Dr. Hafsah Hashim, Chief Executive Officer of SME Corporation in Malaysia, during the same event, said challenges for SMEs are the same in all jurisdictions.

These challenges include less access to finance and markets.

Hafsah raised the need to have a master plan to ensure that women who are part of this sector and who want to advance their business get full support.

“If all these challenges are addressed, this is the only time SME will really prosper,” she added. (PNA)