Women play an important role in driving economic growth. In many countries, women entering the labour market are critical to economic development.
However, more than half of the women around the world still don’t have jobs. At this time, when governments around the world are seeking short- and long-term solutions for economic development, expanding the economic opportunities available to 1.5 billion women who are unemployed, including eliminating social, educational, legal and financial barriers for women, would be extremely important.
Thus, to measure the progress of the economic development of women, the Women’s Economic
Opportunity Index was created by the Economist Intelligence Unit. This index considers the factors that affect women’s access to economic opportunities in five dimensions:
– Labour policies and practices such as employment discrimination issues;
– Access to capital for women;
– Education and training for women;
– Women’s legal and social status;
– The general business environment such as the availability of infrastructure and access to technology and energy.
In each dimension, there are many sub-indicators.
Data for this index is collected from various international organisations, including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and many others. The index ranks 128 countries and Thailand is among them. In 2012, the top five countries where women’s economic opportunities are highest are Sweden, Norway, Finland, Belgium and Australia in descending order. Thailand is in a good position as it is ranked 47th in the world and second in the Asean region, behind only Singapore which is ranked 31st in the world, while Malaysia’s ranking is 53rd, the Philippines, 74th; Indonesia, 85th; Vietnam, 87th; Cambodia, 96th; and Laos, 109th. In addition, for the lower middle income countries, where the average income is US$976 (30,900 baht) to $3,855 a year, Thailand ranks number one among 39 countries with a score of 60.1 points (out of 100) which is an increase from 2010.
If we consider women’s economic opportunities in Thailand, it seems that the situation is better than in many other countries. In 2010, the participation rate of women in the labor force was 64.3%, which was lower than men (80.7%). The average unemployment rate for women was 1% _ or about 175,900 women _ which was less than the average unemployment rate for men, which was 1.1%, or approximately 226,300 men. For the public sector, the ratio of women as government officers at levels 1-8 is higher than for men, while at levels 9-11 there is a higher ratio of men than women.
The reason why Thai women have become more involved in economic development than women in many other countries, I believe is because this issue has received considerable attention from the public sector for a long time. There is the women’s development plan which was consistently planned along with the national economic and social development plan. Because of the women’s development plan, awareness of non-governmental organisations and communities has increased. Organisations and mechanisms to protect women’s rights have been set up at all levels. Moreover, the national government, local governments and governmental agencies have implemented policies that empower women. For example, the government recently set up the National Development Fund for Women. The government’s budget for this project is around 7.7 billion baht, or an average of 100 million baht per province. This policy will be very useful for the economic development of women if the fund is managed effectively, the operation is run transparently without the intervention of political parties and all women can gain full access to the fund.
However, the above is only one aspect of women’s development, as economic development can’t fully reflect the entire picture of women’s development. So, we should consider women’s development in other areas as well, such as politics and other social aspects. If we consider other aspects, we will find that Thai women still face many problems which are waiting for solutions, such as family violence, sexual harassment, security, exploitation and the attitude of society towards women, etc.
There is considerable empirical evidence pointing to the fact that if women develop in various dimensions, society will develop both directly and indirectly. Therefore, the government should give serious priority to women’s development so that they will be able to help accelerate national and social development. As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan once said, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”