The Asia Pacific Women thought leadership series brings focus to the status of women in the Asia-Pacific region through expert commentary on women’s social inclusion and economic engagement in several aspects of life.

A recent study by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) in Australia found that a female CEO increased the company’s market value by 5%, nearly $8 million to an average ASX200 (Australia’s biggest companies). This 6-year study collected gender data from 11,000 organisations and shows that companies with more female leaders tend to outperform, and those with fewer women underperform.

Recent progress of women’s empowerment in business and management has also been researched by the International Labour Organization (ILO). This survey of almost 13,000 companies around the globe showed that female participation in business and management is a crucial part of business sustainability. For example, 60% of the enterprises surveyed by the ILO reported that gender equality in companies has good outcomes, including higher profitability and productivity. Gender equality is also good for a country’s economy. Increasing women’s labour force participation has also been shown to boost the gross domestic product at the national level.

In the Asia Pacific alone, the advancement of women’s equality could add $4.5 trillion to their collective GDP annually in 2025—a 12% increase over a business-as-usual GDP projection. In Indonesia, an ILO study that surveyed 416 companies showed that over 77% of enterprises reported that initiatives on gender diversity and equality improved business outcomes; 32.2% said profit grew between 5% and 10%; and 31.8% reported that their profit increased between 10% and 15%. In the area of corporate leadership, the survey revealed that 15% of enterprises had a female CEO; 18.4% of enterprises had a female chairperson on the board; 11.3% of enterprises had an all-male board; 8.1% of enterprises had a gender balanced board; and 1.6% of enterprises had a majority-female board.

Women empowerment and gender equality as universal values

During the last decade, several global commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment have been developed and launched. This is in addition to other global instruments including, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1979, and the Beijing Platform for Action (BPA) in 1995. These global commitments influenced the inclusion of a strong commitment in 2000 for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular Goal 3 to ‘Promote Gender Equality and Women Empowerment’ and Goal 5 to ‘Improve Maternal Mortality’.

These global commitments became even stronger with the promulgation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015. A special Goal 5 to ‘Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls’, merged all the important principles of CEDAW, ICPD and BPA. Unique opportunities were provided by the SDGs in addressing this Goal 5. Out of a total of 17 goals and 169 targets, 12 goals and 40 targets are explicitly linked with gender equality, and with the human rights of women and girls.

In all these goals, there is a clear recognition of their interrelated and interlinked impacts on women and girls.

Also, how gender equality and women’s empowerment can catalyze the achievements of these 12 Goals.

Empowering women to participate fully in the development process is essential to building strong economies, establishing just societies, and achieving the SDGs. This claim has been supported by the empirical evidence from the studies above.

Private sector engagement in development

Private Sector Engagement (PSE) refers to the interest of governments, donors and others to work more strategically and systematically with business. PSE strategies are means to reach many development goals, with the private sector being an equal partner with finance, ideas and capacity. PSE usually focuses on stimulating the private sector to generate more economic opportunities for the poor. Enhancing staff skills in engaging the private sector more effectively is a priority for many donors.

The private sector is already recognised as a key partner to the achievement of the SDGs. It plays an important role as an engine of economic growth and job creation in developing countries. It provides goods and services, generates tax revenues to finance essential social and economic infrastructure, develops new and innovative solutions that help tackle development challenges, and it is a central actor in addressing sustainable development and climate change.

As such, the private sector is now an important strategic partner for a multi-stakeholder partnership. Unfortunately, many business sectors employing women have been badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing massive un-employment of women workers. These women mostly involved in corporate supply chains are impacted more than male workers due to various discriminations.

Home is not always the safest place for women. During working and schooling at home, women’s multi-tasking at home increases dramatically. This can result in cases of quarrels, violence and harassment. But there is also a lot of good news during this pandemic.

There are a plethora of new small-scale businesses by women in densely populated urban and peri-urban settlements; from producing in small neighborhood groups homemade face masks and hand sanitizers, to cooking food packages.

These were linked with women SMEs marketing them, mostly to corporations doing humanitarian efforts. A grassroot women’s movement called PKK, with millions of members all over Indonesia have been organising these economic efforts of women working from home. They are also doing outreach efforts, promoting healthy habits, urban agriculture and more.

In Indonesia, we always quote the famous Indonesian leader RA Kartini, that “After darkness there are always light”. Every disaster also brings blessings, and women in organised institutions and corporations can usually bring back light through working together, from the grassroot to the national level.


Erna Witoelar is the former UN Special Ambassador for MDGs in Asia Pacific (2003-2007) and the Indonesian Minister of Human Settlements and Regional Development (1999-2001). In 2017 Erna co-founded CAIPSDCC and in 2018 co-founded the start-up company ‘Partnership.ID’, that facilitates sustainable partnerships and collaborative engagements. 
In 2019 Erna was awarded Doctor of the University at Griffith University.