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Inclusive ASEAN: Women, Young, and People with Disabilities

Inclusive ASEAN: Women, Young, and People with Disabilities

By Dr Lili Yan Ing, Secretary General of International Economic Association (IEA) and ERIA's Lead Advisor, Southeast Asia Region: 

Have you ever been treated unequally?

Have you ever experienced unfair treatment?

Have you ever felt you are left behind?

Yet, you have no one to care, not even talk to.


Workplace discrimination can be considered as a legal offense. It can take in 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 it as special needs), religion, and social background. Discrimination can occur in any aspect of employment starting from hiring, promotion, 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 are the gender and/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, academic, NGOs which hereafter I refer as ‘companies et al’. Discrimination can lead to a loss of talent which results in lower productivity and outputs (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% in the Philippines to 34% 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% of high-paid managerial and supervisory jobs are held by women, and even in these fields, women remain underpaid compared to men (ILO, 2020). 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% lower than that of men, and that women were underrepresented in high-paying sectors such as finance and technology (WEF, 2020). Moreover, COVID-19 pandemic has also disproportionately affected women by 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 to 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, we can promote social justice and, in the end, achieve a more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous ASEAN.

This opinion piece was written by Secretary General of International Economic Association (IEA) and ERIA's Lead Advisor, Southeast Asia Region, Dr Lili Yan Ing, and has been published in Jakarta GlobeJakarta Post,, and The Voice of VietnamClick here to subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are purely those of the authors and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

(Photo Credit: Jakarta Globe)

Lili Yan Ing

Lili Yan Ing is a Lead Advisor (Southeast Asia Region) at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). Dr Ing also serves as Secretary General of the International Economic Association (IEA).

Dr Ing was appointed as Lead Advisor to the Minister of Trade of Indonesia from 2017–2019 and Senior Advisor on Trade and Investment at the President’s Office of the Republic of Indonesia from 2015–2016. During her services, Indonesia concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Indonesia—Australia CEPA, the Indonesia—Korea CEPA, and the Indonesia—EFTA CEPA, and reactivated the Indonesia—EU CEPA. She represented Indonesia at G20 Trade Ministers Meeting in 2018 and WTO Trade Ministers Meeting at a sideline of OECD Council Meeting in 2018 and 2019. 


13 May 2023



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