A conversation with Nicole Naurath
Gallup's Regional Director for the World Poll in Asia
What do you see as the No. 1 problem facing women in your region?
Naurath: Asia is too big and too diverse to limit it to just one problem, but I can break it down with a couple of examples:
In developed countries, such as South Korea and Japan, women face pressure from their families and society to leave the workforce -- particularly after they have children. The availability of affordable child care is a major issue.
In South Asia, women and men are not treated equally. Women get less education and are more likely to be illiterate. They also don't have the freedom of expression that men do.
What do Gallup's World Poll data say about it? Are things getting better or worse?
Naurath: Gallup's employment data from South Korea and Japan show that at least four in 10 women are still out of the workforce, but the situation has been improving in both countries over the past 10 years. This aligns pretty well with the direction in the trends from the International Labour Organization.
However, we also know from our International Labour Organization-Gallup research project in 2016 that the most commonly cited barriers for women working paid jobs in these two countries are affordable child care and work/family balance. Those are still big issues.
In South Asia, we still see a wide gender gap in educational attainment, but our trends show more women are getting a secondary education. More than one in three women in the region have at least some secondary education -- nine to 15 years of education -- compared with about half of men. This seems to coincide with reports we see from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that say education and literacy are improving in the region but also acknowledge the gender gap.
Is the situation getting better or worse in some countries than others? If it is getting better, what is going on? What are governments or NGOs doing? Who is pushing this change?
Naurath: To their credit, the Japanese and South Korean governments are doing a lot to encourage women to stay in the workforce -- including offering incentives that make it easier for them to return to work after having a child -- but progress is slow.
The United Nations, the World Bank and many other groups, including governments, are working to raise the status of women in South Asia. Progress varies from country to country. There have been major improvements in Bangladesh, for example. In the past decade, Bangladesh's ranking has jumped from 91st to 47th on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index -- performing well in terms of political empowerment but still poorly in terms of economic participation and opportunity.
If you, personally, could pick one problem to solve for women in your region, what would it be?
Naurath: In many of the countries, I'd pick literacy or education, but clearly that isn't as big of a problem for women in developed countries.
Do you ever think that something like the #MeToo movement that has been so highly publicized in the U.S. could happen in your region?
Naurath: Just this week in South Korea, a politician resigned after his secretary -- who said she was inspired to come forward by the #MeToo movement -- publicly accused him of repeatedly raping her.
But really, in many other countries, women may not interpret or react to the meaning behind #MeToo in the same way that people in the West do.