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Report: ASEAN women are a potential boost to the region’s labour force and economy

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The women of ASEAN already contribute significantly to the ASEAN economies. Yet many obstacles remain which must be removed to ensure their equal participation in and benefit from ASEAN economic growth and development.

This was one of the main findings of the research report on the Projected Gender Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community, undertaken by the ASEAN Secretariat, UN Women and the German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) with the support of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Economic growth across the 10 Member States has averaged 5 per cent a year, and the job market for the population of 622 million is estimated to be worth USD 2.6 trillion dollars annually. But women’s lack of equal opportunities costed the region’s economies an estimated 18 per cent of GDP, or almost half a billion dollars in 2015. ASEAN economies have “potentially vast numbers of skilled and unskilled female workers that are not being fully included,” said Adrienne Woltersdorf, Director of the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia. “Economies pay a price for keeping women out.”

Despite legislation on equal opportunities in every ASEAN country, women spend fewer years in school and have fewer jobs in high-value roles or sectors. They also do much more unpaid work, and have limited access to formal credit. In many ASEAN countries, traditions and customs further limit opportunities.

“Women workers play a critical role in ASEAN, making significant economic contributions to their families, communities and societies,” said Roberta Clarke, Regional Director of UN Women Asia and the Pacific and Representative in Thailand. “However, our study shows that women also suffer from specific and deeply gendered inequalities.”

Each barrier to women’s empowerment is “a missed opportunity for development and economic growth,” said Simon Merrifield, Australian Ambassador to ASEAN.

Much more needs to be done if women are to enjoy equality and participate in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Progress on girls’ participation in school must continue, but it is also important to ensure the enabling environment for women in the labour force, for example through the provision of better childcare and parental leave, the study found. Role models and mentorship programmes can also help shift gender norms.

Without targeted measures, such as access to credit, technology and non-traditional vocational training and education, the potential of the AEC for women’s empowerment may not be realized. The changes required are not only in the market and the economy but also the private sphere. “It is our hope that this study will encourage ASEAN Member States to adopt strategies that will address inequalities that inhibit women’s full participation in the economy,” said Emmeline L. Verzosa, Executive Director of the Philippine Commission on Women and Chair of the ASEAN Committee on Women. “One way is through the recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care and domestic work.”

The study makes a number of recommendations aimed at increasing women’s share in the regional and national trade and national income. This, Clarke said, is a win-win strategy for women’s rights, the society, economy, private businesses and individuals.

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Development

An Education Reform Path for Lebanon

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Lebanon needs to urgently embark on a comprehensive reform agenda that puts students at the center of the education sector and prioritizes quality of education for all, according to a new World Bank report released today. Low levels of learning and skills mismatch in the job market have put the future of generations of Lebanese children at risk and imply a critical need for more and better targeted investments in the sector.

The report, titled “Foundations for Building Forward Better: An Education Reform Path for Lebanon”, presents an overview of key challenges facing the education sector. It provides evidence-based solutions founded on a diagnostic of the factors contributing to the learning crisis and proposes policy reform recommendations over the short- and medium- to long-terms. The proposed reform plan is in line with the objectives of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s 5-year draft sector plan, which aims to improve equity, learning outcomes, and governance in education. The report also draws from the latest available education sector research, including studies conducted under the Research for Results Program launched back in 2016. 

The compounded crises that have assailed Lebanon over the past several years –Syrian refugee influx, economic and financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Port of Beirut blast– have all put severe strains on an already struggling education system. Pre-COVID-19 learning levels were already comparatively low, with only 6.3 years of learning taking place, after schooling is adjusted for actual learning. The global pandemic has led to extended school closures since March 2020, which will likely result in a further and significant decrease in learning. Effectively, students in Lebanon are facing a “lost year” of learning. Despite efforts to reopen schools, a more systematic approach for planning at the district level, in close collaboration with regional education office directors, is needed as the response requires local solutions. 

Lebanon needs to urgently reform the education sector and build forward better,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “Now more than ever, Lebanon needs to invest more and better in improving learning outcomes for children and making sure Lebanese youth are well equipped with the right skills required by the job market to enable them to contribute to Lebanon’s economic recovery”.

The multiple crises and the resulting increase in poverty rates, with more than half the population likely below the national poverty line, have also directly impacted demand for education and student retention. The contraction in the economy, plummeting purchasing power and the steep deterioration in living conditions will likely lead more parents to shift their children to public schools in the coming years, as well as higher student drop-outs, especially among marginalized households. The report presents key aspects for restructuring the education sector financing in support of a more efficient and equitable system and to prevent further learning loss. 

The report puts forward for discussion sector-wide mid-term reform recommendations across seven key strategic areas: I) Restructuring Sector Financing; II) Diagnostics to Support Overcoming the Learning Crisis; III) Improvements of Teacher Utilization and Quality of Teaching; IV) School Environment and School Accountability Measures; V) Education Strategy and Curriculum Reform; VI) Early Childhood Education; and VII) School to Work Transitions and Youth. These recommendations for action tackle key challenges within the sector and approaches towards addressing the growing learning crisis and meeting the increased demand for public education in the country while regaining equity and efficiency.

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Human Rights

First international treaty to address violence and harassment comes into force

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The first international treaty on violence and harassment in the world of work comes into force on June 25th 2021 – two years after it was adopted by the ILO’s International Labour Conference (ILC).

To date, six countries have ratified the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190)  – Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Namibia, Somalia and Uruguay. Ratifying countries are legally bound by the provisions of the Convention a year after ratification.

Together with Recommendation No. 206 , Convention No. 190 recognizes the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment and provides a common framework for action.

It provides the first international definition of violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment.

Violence and harassment at work takes a range of forms and leads to physical, psychological, sexual and economic harm. Since the adoption of the Convention, the COVID-19 pandemic  has further highlighted the issue, with many forms of work-related violence and harassment being reported across countries since the outbreak began, particularly against women and vulnerable groups.

To mark its entering into force the ILO will launch a global campaign to promote its ratification and implementation. The campaign aims to explain in simple terms what the Convention is, the issues it covers and how it seeks to address violence and harassment in the world of work.

“A better future of work is free of violence and harassment,” said Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General in his message to launch the global campaign.

“Convention 190 calls on all ILO Member States to eradicate violence and harassment in all its forms from the world of work. I urge countries to ratify the Convention and help build, together with employers and workers and their organizations, a dignified, safe and healthy working life for all.”

The global campaign will be launched during the ILO Action Week on Convention No. 190 , which takes place 21-25 June 2021.

The Action Week calls for renewed commitment from countries to ratify and implement the Convention.

The Action Week begins on 21 June with a virtual high-level dialogue . The speakers will include the ILO Director-General, Ministers of Labour from Argentina and Madagascar, and representatives of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Following the Action Week, the ILO will launch a guide aimed at helping constituents and other stakeholders promote and implement the Convention and Recommendation. The guide covers core principles and measures that countries can take to prevent, address and eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work, including examples of national laws, regulations and policies.

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Environment

A beginner’s guide to sustainable farming

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Industrialized farming has been a reliable way to produce lots of food at a relatively low cost. But it’s not the bargain it was once believed to be. Unsustainable agriculture can pollute water, air and soil; is a source of greenhouse gases, and destroys wildlife. All told that costs economies about $3 trillion every year. And to top it all off, some farming practices have been linked to the emergence of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19.

18 June is Sustainable Gastronomy Day, which celebrates local cuisine that is produced in ways that are both environmentally friendly and minimize waste. To mark the occasion, we take a closer look at how to make agriculture more sustainable and what that would mean for the economy, the environment and human health.

What exactly is sustainable agriculture?

It is farming that meets the needs of existing and future generations, while also ensuring profitability, environmental health and social and economic equity. It favours techniques that emulate nature–to preserve soil fertility, prevent water pollution and protect biodiversity. It is also a way to support the achievement of global objectives, like the Sustainable Development Goals and Zero Hunger.

Does sustainable agriculture really make a difference to the environment?

Yes. It uses up to 56 per cent less energy per unit of crops produced, creates 64 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions per hectare and supports greater levels of biodiversity than conventional farming.

Why does sustainably produced food seem more expensive?

It may be more costly because it is more labour-intensive. It is often certified in a way that requires it to be separated from conventional foods during processing and transport. The costs associated with marketing and distribution of relatively small volumes of product are often comparatively high. And, sometimes, the supply of certain sustainably produced foods is limited.

Why are some foods so much more affordable–even when they require processing and packaging?

The heavy use of chemicals, medicines and genetic modification allows some foods to be produced cheaply and in reliably high volumes, so the retail price tag may be lower. But this is deceiving because it does not reflect the costs of environmental damage or the price of healthcare that is required to treat diet-related diseases. Ultra-processed foods are often high in energy and low in nutrients and may contribute to the development of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer. This is particularly concerning amid the COVID-19 pandemic; the disease is especially risky for those with pre-existing health problems.

Do we all have to be vegan?

No. But most of us should eat less animal protein. Livestock production is a major cause of climate change and in most parts of the world, people already consume more animal-sourced food than is healthy. But even small dietary shifts can have a positive impact. The average person consumes 100 grams of meat daily. Reducing that by 10 grams could improve human health while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Is sustainable agriculture possible in developing countries?

Yes. Because sustainably produced food is typically more labour-intensive than conventionally made food, it has the potential to create 30 per cent more jobs. And because it can command higher prices, it can also generate more money for farmers.

Is it possible to make sustainably produced food that is affordable for everyone?

Yes. As demand for certain foods increases, the costs associated with production, processing, distribution and marketing will drop, which should make them less expensive for consumers.  Policymakers can also play a role, facilitating market access and leveling the financial and regulatory playing field.

If it is so important, why hasn’t sustainable farming been adopted as a global standard?

There is a lack of understanding of the way that agriculture, the environment and human health intersect. Policymakers do not typically consider nature as a form of capital, so legislation is not designed to prevent pollution and other kinds of environmental degradation. And consumers may not realize how their dietary choices affect the environment or even their own health. In the absence of either legal obligations or consumer demand, there is little incentive for producers to change their approach.

What are some ways to consume food more sustainably?

Diversify your diet and cook more meals at home. Eat more plant-based foods; enjoy pulses, peas, beans and chickpeas as sources of protein. Eat local, seasonal foods. Purchase sustainably produced foods and learn more about farming practices and labeling. Avoid excessive packaging, which is likely to end up as landfill. Don’t waste food: eliminating food waste could reduce global carbon emissions by 8-10 per cent. Cultivate your own garden, even if it is a small one in your kitchen. Support organizations, policies and projects that promote sustainable food systems. And discuss the importance of healthy and sustainable foods with producers, vendors, policymakers, friends and family.

UN Environment

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