Shanghai: The 2 billion women in Asia are still paid less than men for similar work and are extremely underrepresented in top leadership positions, according to a report that estimates limits on female employment cost the region USD 89 billion a year in lost productivity.

The Asia Society survey on women's status in health, education, economic activity and political leadership urges improvements to ensure the region benefits fully from its underused pool of human talent.

While the status of women varies widely from country to country from one category to the next, overall, "to continue in this direction would put in peril Asia's many achievements," said the report, compiled by Astrid S Tuminez, a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
The report cited United Nations data in estimating the lost productivity for Asia at USD 89 billion a year because of limits on female employment.

Overall, based on various measures, the report also uses data from The Economic Forum and other sources, the gender gap was narrowest and women's leadership strongest in New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mongolia. The gap was widest in Pakistan, Nepal, India, South Korea and Cambodia.

"Some economies in Asia with the highest human development rankings also perform most poorly in some measures of women's leadership," it said, referring specifically to Japan and South Korea.

Asia leads the world in terms of the number of years women have governed as heads of state, and currently has four women leaders. But the report attributes that to dynastic traditions calling for women to take over from fathers, husbands or sons when they die, are imprisoned or killed.

It said the problem begins before birth, with sex-selective abortions and infanticide due to a preference for sons in countries such as China and India.

It said the bias in favour of sons means that girls in some countries receive poorer medical care, nutrition and education than boys, especially in developing countries. The discrepancy in schooling leaves the majority of women in four Asian nations illiterate, the report said, citing literacy rates of 10 percent in Bhutan, 16 percent in Pakistan, 25 percent in Nepal and 31 percent in Bangladesh.

Although women live longer in Asian nations as in other regions, such disadvantages affect health and earning power over a lifetime, the report noted.