It is not easy to generalize about the economic position of Southeast Asian women because of the gap in development between Timor Lorosae, Cambodia and Laos (among the poorest countries in the world), and prosperous Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. Nonetheless, the continuing acceptance of the idea that a woman can generate and control her own income is still evident, although women receive less pay than men for the same work and the options for unskilled workers are limited. In poorer countries and impoverished regions this is apparent in the prevalence of prostitution and the disturbing trafficking of women. From the mid 1960s, however, as Southeast Asian countries gradually shifted to export-oriented economies, lower-paid women have become essential to factory work. In consequence, women have been more active in labor movements. As overseas domestic workers, they have also been increasingly important to national economies, remitting large amounts of money to their families. Because of world-wide shortages, qualified women can find employment abroad in skilled occupations such as nursing.
Obtaining vocational skills and academic qualifications is far more possible than hitherto as Southeast Asian women gain greater access to education. With the exception of Cambodia and Laos, the numbers of women progressing to post-secondary training is also rising, and in Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines there are more female graduates than males; the rates for Vietnam and Indonesia are almost equal. The expansion in education has contributed to the blossoming offemale-oriented Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) since the 1980s, which have given the knowledge and organization skills that equip them to argue for issues.
Despite the region’s economic, political and cultural diversity, Southeast Asian countries generally fare well in measures of humand evelopment. The heritage of relatively favorable gender relations and the resilience and pragmatism of local societies indicate that Southeast Asian women can look towards a promising future.
Author: Barbara Watson Andaya.