Ambassador Platt, panelists, distinguished guests, it's a great pleasure for me to be here. I think I've been set with a rather formidable task to launch this wonderful initiative, the Asian Social Issues Program. I had prepared quite a different presentation based really on population and gender and reproductive health and rights until I had a visit from some members from the Asia Society and they talked about globalization and perils and opportunities or some such thing. So I really had to do some thinking between Tuesday and Thursday and try to reconstruct what I thought you, as the audience, would be interested in. Nevertheless, you will find a lot of references to population, to gender issues, to women's empowerment and to reproductive health and rights. But I have tried, as we do in the UN, to participate in a lot of discussions on globalization, on poverty and participation - all of those issues also fit in the Asian context.
I want to start by looking at some of the experiences in the Asian region. For almost three decades, until 1997, East Asia offered a model for rapid economic growth. They were called the Asian tigers and everyone was waiting for them to join the group of developed countries. This was enabled by massive and early investment in human development in health and education and to some extent also from watching gender equality and participation of women. These investments certainly in these countries improved maternal and child health, encouraged smaller families, encouraged women's participation in all development sectors, including the economy. Investment in these sectors became progressively more productive. A higher proportion of GNP was available then for economic investment. And a healthy and educated workforce sustained even higher standards of economic activity. The result was to draw in international investments overseas - investment fueling. In fact, even more economic growth. We compared this with other parts of South Asia with high population growth rates, lack of investment in the social sectors, continuing low level of women's participation; their low status in society has really slowed economic growth and economic development. They've kept all the social indicators, low health and education standards and have discouraged, in fact, external investment and resource growth. But, development is not a smooth process. The financial and economic crisis that began in East Asia in mid-1997 showed how quickly unsustainable development can go into reverse. The hot money, as I discovered and which is discussed all the time from overseas, vanished as quickly as it had arrived. We studied, as a number of organizations did, some of the social effects of the economic crisis in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippians and Thailand and found that, in common with I'm sure many others, women were disproportionately effected by unemployment and under employment; that malnutrition increased in babies and young children; that people became poor almost overnight; unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, Aids, all increased. The indicators were all very clear.
Poverty increased the pressure on women to enter the commercial sex industry. They are exposed to overexploitation, violence and infection. The crisis certainly cut expenditure in the social sectors. On education, there was increased dropout in Indonesia for example. A large number of children were kept out of school. Girls and the poor were obviously the hardest hit. Reports on the experience of Asian women back up our study. Women are often the first to be laid off when companies shut down. You see this also in the China experience, as economic activity has increased the status of women and their access to economic bars seems to have been less visible than it was before the free market. Women tend to be assigned to dispensable work and more women are temporarily part time workers. Although women own or manage at least half the small and medium scale enterprises in many of the Asian and Pacific countries, they still find it more difficult to obtain credit or loans than their counterparts. And lack of credit had made adjustments for women even harder and more difficult in this environment.