Women in Economic and Social Development

     Women have played an important role in driving economic growth. In many countries, women's entering into the labor market is critical to economic development. However, more than half of the women around the world still don?t have a job. At this  time when  governments around the world are seeking  short and long term solutions for economic development, expanding the economic opportunities to 1.5 billion women who are not employed including eliminating the social, educational, legal and financial barriers for women would be extremely important.

Sources : http://image.fastcompany.com/upload/1-25-women-start-ups.jpg 
     Thus, to measure the progress of economic development in women, the Women?s Economic Opportunity (WEO) Index was created by the Economist Intelligence Unit. This index considers the factors that affect women?s access to economic opportunities in 5 dimensions which are 1) labor policies and practices (such as, is there employment discrimination?) 2) access to financial capital for women 3) education and training for women 4) women?s legal and social status 5) the general business environment (such as the availability of infrastructure, the accessing of technology and energy, etc.). In each dimension, there are many sub indicators.  
     Data for this index is collected from various international organizations, including the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and many others. One hundred and twenty-eight countries have been ranked and Thailand is one of these countries.  In 2012, the top five countries where women?s economic opportunity is the highest are Sweden, Norway, Finland, Belgium and Australia respectively. Thailand is in a good position as it is ranked 47th in the world and 2nd in Asia, behind only Singapore which is ranked 31st in the world (while Malaysia?s rank is 53rd, the Philippines 74th, Indonesia 85th, Vietnam 87th, Cambodia 96th and Laos 109th). In addition, for the lower middle income countries, where the average income is 976 to 3,855 U.S. dollars per year; Thailand ranks   number one of these 39 countries with a score of 60.1 points (out of 100) which is an increase from the year 2010.
     If we consider women?s economic opportunities in Thailand, it seems that the situation is better than in many other countries. In the year 2010, the participation rate of women in the labor force was 64.3 percent which was lower than men (80.7 percent). The average unemployment rate for women was 1.0 percent or about 175,900 women which was less than the average unemployment rate for men which was 1.1 percent or approximate 226,300 men.  For the public sector, the ratio of women as government officers at level 1 - 8 is higher than men while at level 9-11 men have a higher ratio than women. 
     The reason why Thai women have become more involved in economic development than women in many other countries, I believe is because this issue has received considerable attention from the public sector for a long time. There is the women?s development plan which has been consistently planned along with the national economic and social development plan. Because of the women?s development plan, awareness of non-governmental organizations and communities has been increased. Organizations and mechanisms to protect women?s rights have been set up at all levels. Moreover, the national government, local governments and governmental agencies have implemented policies that empower women. For example, the Thai government has recently set up the National Development Fund for Women. The Government?s budget for this project is around 7.7 billion baht or an average of 100 million baht per province. This policy will be very useful for the economic development of women if the fund is managed effectively, the operation is run transparently, without the intervention of political parties and all women can fully access to the fund. 
     However, the above is only one aspect in women?s development, the economic development, which can?t fully reflect the entire picture of women?s development.  So, we should consider women?s development in other aspects as well such as politics and other social aspects and so on. Because if we consider other aspects, we will find that Thai women still have many problems which are waiting for  solutions such as family violence, sexual harassment, security, exploitation and the attitude of society towards women, etc. 
     There is considerable empirical evidence pointing out that if women are developed in various dimensions, society will be developed both directly and indirectly. Therefore, the government should give serious priority to women?s development so that they will be able to help accelerate the nation and social development. As Mr. Kofi Anan, former United Nations Secretary-General, once said "?there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women."

Kriengsak Chareonwongsak.
Senior Fellow at Harvard University?s Center of Business and Government.