Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Inclusive ASEAN: Women, Young, and People with Disabilities

Lili Yan Ing
May 13, 2023 | 10:15 am
Two state-owned electricity company PLN female technicians inspect equipment at the company's branch office on Jalan MH Thamrin, Central Jakarta on April 20, 2022. (JG Photo)
Two state-owned electricity company PLN female technicians inspect equipment at the company's branch office on Jalan MH Thamrin, Central Jakarta on April 20, 2022. (JG Photo)

Have you ever been treated unequally? Have you ever felt you are left behind? Have you ever experienced unfair treatment? Yet, you have no one to care, not even talk to.

Workplace discrimination can be considered as a legal offense. It can take many forms such as unfair treatment of an employee or job applicant based on their gender, race, sexual orientation, age, disability (I personally prefer to refer to it as special needs), religion, and social background. 

Discrimination can occur in any aspect of employment starting from hiring, promotion, and pay, to facility and working conditions. Workplace discrimination is a concerning issue that affects many people globally, including those in ASEAN. 

One of the most prevalent forms of workplace discrimination is the gender or nationality/race wage gaps or different treatment/facilities.


Discrimination in the workplace will negatively affect employment. It can lead to lower satisfaction and productivity, and higher absence and turnover rates. It may also have a significant impact on mental health. 

Eventually, workplace discrimination can also have serious consequences for companies or any institutions including international organizations, academics, and NGOs which hereafter I refer to as ‘companies et al’. 

Discrimination can lead to a loss of talent which results in lower productivity, outputs, and profits. Companies et al that fail to address discrimination may also face legal action that can result in costly settlements and damage to the company's reputation.

The gender wage gap and discrimination are serious problems in many ASEAN countries, where women often earn less than men for doing the same job. 

The gender wage gap in ASEAN ranges from 16 percent in the Philippines to 34 percent in Cambodia. This wage gap is often due to a combination of factors, including gender stereotypes, occupational segregation, and unequal access to education and training. 

Specifically, in Indonesia, the average monthly wage for women was 25% lower than that of men (BPS, 2021). 

It also finds that women were more likely to work in low-paying sectors such as agriculture and relatively lower-skilled services sector, while men were more likely to work in higher-paying sectors such as finance and mining. 

In addition, in Indonesia, only 25 percent of high-paid managerial and supervisory jobs are held by women, and even in these fields, women remain underpaid compared to men (ILO, 2020). 

Inclusive ASEAN: Women, Young, and People with Disabilities
A woman crosses Jalan Thamrin in Central Jakarta on August 13, 2022. (Beritasatu Photo/Mohammad Defrizal)

In the Philippines, while the government has made progress in reducing the gender wage gap, significant disparities remain. 

The average wage for women in the Philippines was 22 percent lower than that of men, and women were underrepresented in high-paying sectors such as finance and technology (WEF, 2020). 

Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has also disproportionately affected women through job losses and reduced working hours not only in ASEAN but also worldwide.

There are at least three underlying factors that stimulate discrimination.

First, gender stereotypes play a significant role in perpetuating the wage gap and different treatment in ASEAN. 

Many employers believe that women are less competent or committed than men and, as a result, offer them lower wages. 

This stereotype is often reinforced by societal norms that assign women the role of housekeeper and men the role of breadwinner.

Women are mostly seen as secondary earners and thus are paid less than their male counterparts.

Second, occupational and education segregation is another factor that contributes to the gender wage gap. 

Women are often concentrated in low-paying and traditionally female-dominated sectors such as healthcare, education, and social (relatively low-skilled) services.

These sectors tend to offer lower wages than male-dominated sectors such as technology, engineering, and finance.

Last, unequal access to education and training is another significant factor in the wage gap.

Women often have less access to education and training than men, which limits their opportunities to acquire the skills and qualifications necessary for higher-paying jobs. 

This unequal access to education and training is often due to cultural and societal barriers that limit women's mobility and opportunities for advancement.

Discrimination against people with special needs and young workers is also a major problem in a number of ASEAN countries. People with special needs often face barriers to employment and are often paid less than their non-disabled peers. 

Young workers also often face discrimination in the workplace, including lower wages and denied opportunities for development. 

In addition to the gender wage gap and discrimination based on disability and age, discrimination in the workplace also takes other forms, including discrimination based on nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and social background.

As in all other countries, concerted efforts are required to promote gender equality in education, employment, and social norms. In the workplace, first, companies et al should have clear policies, regulations, and procedures in place to prevent discrimination. 

These policies should be communicated clearly and enforced consistently and non-discriminatorily to all employees.

Hiring and promotion practices should be fair and unbiased, which includes developing job descriptions and requirements that are based on the actual job duties and qualifications needed, rather than personal characteristics such as age or gender. 

Companies should also ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly and consistently and that promotions are based on merit rather than personal biases. 

Policies should also include reporting mechanisms for employees who experience discrimination, and the company should take all complaints seriously and investigate them promptly.

Second, companies et al should provide necessary facilities for employees with special needs and for working parents. 

This may include modifications to the physical workspace, such as wheelchair ramps or accessible restrooms, accommodation close to the office, and assistive technology for people with special needs as well as childcare facilities for working parents.

Last, companies et al should strive to create a culture of inclusion, where all employees feel valued and respected. This includes promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the workplace, from the language used in communications to the events and activities offered to employees. 

By creating a culture of inclusion, companies, and other institutions can help to reduce the likelihood of discrimination occurring in the workplace. This includes implementing anti-discrimination laws and policies, providing equal access to education and training, promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and raising awareness of the harmful effects of discrimination.

On top of that, governments and civil society have to ensure equal opportunity to education and basic human rights for all people. It is crucial to address workplace discrimination and the gender wage gap in ASEAN to promote social justice and equal opportunities for all workers.

Governments, employers, and civil society organizations must work together to eliminate discriminatory practices and policies and promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Only by working together to address workplace discrimination and the wage gap, can we promote social justice and, in the end, achieve a more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous ASEAN.


Lili Yan Ing is the Secretary General of the International Economic Association (IEA) and Lead Advisor Southeast Asia Region, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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