[Blog] Advancing gender equality for sustainable infrastructure development in Asia and the Pacific
As the world celebrates Pride Month, we are confronted with the enduring reality of persistent inequalities that continue to shape the lives of marginalized communities worldwide. Gender equality, in particular, remains a resounding challenge, casting its shadow over the realm of infrastructure development. Globally, women's representation in leadership positions across all infrastructure sectors remains low, with only 19 per cent of such positions being held by women. While sustainable infrastructure projects hold great promise for fostering economic growth and improving the well-being of people in Asia and the Pacific, true progress requires the integration of gender considerations into every aspect of planning and implementation.
This is where gender mainstreaming comes into play - a comprehensive strategy that acknowledges existing gender disparities and ensures that gender becomes an integral component in the design, execution, and evaluation of policies and programs. It represents a resolute departure from relegating gender to an afterthought, aiming instead to weave it into the very fabric of our efforts.
The significance of gender mainstreaming for sustainable infrastructure development
Gender mainstreaming is vital in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and promoting gender equality in infrastructure projects. Firstly, it ensures equal access to economic opportunities for women, contributing to their economic empowerment. Secondly, it enhances social inclusion and empowerment by addressing the specific needs and challenges women face in infrastructure development. Thirdly, gender mainstreaming improves safety and security by incorporating measures that mitigate gender-based violence and harassment. Finally, it fosters sustainable development by ensuring that infrastructure projects are responsive to the needs of all community members, thereby contributing to more resilient and inclusive societies.
Current gender mainstreaming gaps in infrastructure
Women’s reliance on public transportation, as highlighted by the OECD and supported by Gendered Innovations, stems from their engagement in multiple household errands and childcare responsibilities. In regions where women face barriers to land ownership and are expected to prioritize domestic duties, this reliance becomes a significant disadvantage. Moreover, inadequate infrastructure further compounds the challenges faced by women, exposing them to increased vulnerability and insecurity. Gender-blind planning perpetuates these disparities, resulting in women being disproportionately impacted by deficiencies in essential infrastructural elements such as electricity, sanitation, and transportation.
Challenges and barriers for gender mainstreaming in infrastructure
Despite the recognized importance of gender mainstreaming, several challenges and barriers exist in implementing gender-responsive infrastructure projects in Asia and the Pacific. These challenges include inadequate gender-disaggregated data, limited awareness and capacity of stakeholders, lack of gender-responsive budgeting, and institutional barriers within project planning and implementation processes. Addressing these challenges requires collaboration among governments, development organizations, civil society, and other stakeholders, as well as the integration of gender mainstreaming frameworks and tools into project planning and evaluation processes.
ESCAP's commitment to gender mainstreaming for sustainable infrastructure development
Since its establishment in 2018, the Infrastructure Financing and Public-Private Partnerships Network of Asia and the Pacific has recognized gender consideration as a critical component in ESCAP's pursuit of enhanced gender responsiveness within inclusive and sustainable finance instruments for social infrastructure development. The early and consistent integration of a comprehensive gender-sensitive approach during the Network's implementation phases has been pivotal. Various criteria have been carefully incorporated into ESCAP activities to ensure gender considerations are upheld.
These include engaging with companies that disclose gender-sensitive information, advocating for women's representation at the highest decision-making levels, disaggregating data collection by gender, promoting women's participation in research staff and team compositions, involving women entrepreneurs associations in project transactions related to socio-economic infrastructure development, and actively supporting infrastructure projects that prioritize gender considerations, women's empowerment, and poverty alleviation, especially among women and rural populations.
Through various PPP network events such as Network Meetings, Thematic Workshops, and Sustainable Infrastructure Promotion Roadshows, ESCAP actively addresses and emphasizes gender equality themes. A notable recent example was during the Eighth Meeting of the Network, where ESCAP highlighted the crucial significance of including and engaging women in infrastructure and public-private partnership projects, attracting socially responsible investors, fostering economic benefits, and involving private sectors. ESCAP also urges member States to identify gender issues for discussion during Network events and encourages the nomination of female representatives from within the Network to share their insights. Additionally, the routine disaggregation of data by gender, which has been a longstanding practice within the Network since its inception, further reinforces ESCAP's commitment to gender-sensitive approaches.
ESCAP remains steadfast in its collaboration with key infrastructure players, member States, and private sectors to foster a more balanced approach to sustainable infrastructure development and financing in the region. To advance gender equality and enhance the quality of life, it is crucial for all sectors to prioritize the closing of the gender gap by promptly implementing appropriate policies. By integrating gender considerations into every stage of project preparation, we can empower the women of tomorrow and create a future where gender equality is at the core of sustainable development.
Chief, Investment and Enterprise Development
Daniel W. Lin
Consultant, Trade, Investment and Innovation Division
Programme Management Assistant, TIID
Public Information Intern, TIID