By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia
Workforce participation and economic empowerment is a powerful tool for women to achieve greater control of their health and wellbeing. Women that work and are economically empowered tend to be better placed to make critical life choices, including on reproduction. They are also more likely to be able to seek out and access health care for themselves and their families.
As women across the Region gain more opportunities in the workforce, there are a number of health-related concerns that demand attention, the resolution of which can further women’s empowerment. This includes enhancing protection for migrant workers. Foreign employment is often insecure, particularly in the informal and domestic help sectors. This can leave women vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Action across countries and sectors is needed to enhance worker protections and make the migration process healthier and more attuned to women’s needs. It also includes making workplaces more attentive to women’s reproductive health needs. Legislation across the Region regarding maternity leave remains inadequate, while workplaces continue to penalize women that take time off to have children. Better legislation on maternity leave and women’s rights at work is needed Region-wide, including more supportive and flexible work arrangements.
In the South-East Asia Region, progress towards gender equality and empowerment of girls and women is being made. Primary school enrolment rates are increasing.
At the same time as working towards safer, healthier and more supportive workplaces, we must also find ways to encourage more women into employment in the first instance. This can be done by improving access to high-quality and cost-effective education. It can be done by creating stringent protection aimed at ending workplace harassment. And it can also be done by challenging gender-based social norms. In the South-East Asia Region, progress towards gender equality and empowerment of girls and women is being made. Primary school enrolment rates are increasing. Maternal and child mortality is being reduced. And economic participation and empowerment is being strengthened by the day. WHO continues to advocate for gender equality and women’s control over their own health and wellbeing.
On International Women’s Day, let’s commit to a brighter, healthier future for girls and women. Let’s commit to empowering women in the workplace and advancing health and development across the South-East Asia Region.