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ASEAN Women’s Participation in the Tourism Industry: A Comparison Against Different Regions and Countries

Updated: May 23

Women make up most of the tourist workforce in most parts of the world. However, in the tourism industry, women are disproportionately represented in low-status, low-paying positions.

In addition, because of domestic duties and gender prejudices, women in regions with high tourism potential have limited access to the facilities, business services, or skill-training programes required to get employment in the tourist-related service and production industries. Even though they make up more than half of the tourist workforce nationwide, fewer women than men hold high-level managerial roles. Therefore, this article aims to examine the women's labour-force participation in selected countries in ASEAN against different regions and countries in the year 2019.

Using secondary data published by the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2019, entitled Travel & Tourism: Driving Women's Success, we compared women's labour force participation against regions and countries. In total, there are 34 countries listed alphabetically in the appendix; after that, we come out with the classification based on region, economic blocs, and economic level of the countries for comparative purposes. The countries were grouped accordingly based on the information available in the appendix, such as ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam); ASEAN+3 (for developing Asian countries); BRICS (four countries with emerging economies); EU (five selected developing European countries); and lastly, three selected high-income countries. Hence, there is tendency that we not have representation from African region, Scandinavian countries for instance due to the lack of information available in the appendix.      

Table 1 compares women's labour-force participation in ASEAN+3, the BRICS, EU, selected high-income countries classified by the World Bank, and Latin American countries against selected ASEAN countries. Among ASEAN countries, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore have the highest female labour-force participation rates compared to other ASEAN countries. However, among the three countries mentioned above, the number of women labour participation in Vietnam and Thailand was higher, primarily due to their participation in the tourism industry, which is the main contributor to these countries' GDP.

Table 1: Selected labor market indicators for the main countries

Selected Labor Market Indicators for The Main Countries

In terms of women's labour-force participation, ASEAN countries continue to lag compared to ASEAN+3 (such as China and Japan), which have 68.6% and 68.7%, respectively, compared to ASEAN (62.6% in average). The same happens when we compare ASEAN to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). China and Russia have higher female labour participation rates than ASEAN, with 68.6 and 69%, respectively.

Suppose we extend our comparison to EU countries. In that case, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain outnumber ASEAN countries by a large margin regarding women's labour participation, with 74%, 75.5%, and 69.2% respectively. The same happened when the comparison scope expanded to include high-income countries as defined by the World Bank. Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States have nearly reached 75% female labour-force participation, with 72%, 74.8%, 72.4%, and 66.1% respectively. Finally, comparing women's labour force participation in ASEAN to that of Latin American countries, Colombia and Peru have the highest rates, with 64.2% and 72.7%, respectively. It was consistent with previous literature, which found that women's labour participation in ASEAN is relatively low compared to other ASEAN members.

Overall, women's labour-force participation in ASEAN is still relatively low compared to other regions and countries around the globe. Most countries and regions in Table 1 show more women's labour-force participation compared to the ASEAN region. It is also worth noting that women's labour-force participation in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia is relatively low compared to other counterparts such as Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Figure 1: Female share of travel & tourism and overall economy employment - G20 and additional countries, 2017

Female share of Travel & Tourism and overall economy employment - G20 and additional countries, 2017

Another issue related to women's labour-force participation is gender equality. Most member countries of ASEAN likely face obstacles due to cultural and religious values. Countries that uphold Islamic values, such as Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia, have difficulty achieving total gender equality. Nevertheless, they are still given opportunities based on merit, in contrast to other Islamic countries that uphold more conservative Islamic values, where women's participation in the labour force is relatively low (Figure 1). However, women's labour-force participation in these countries is considered more significant than in conservative Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Iran, Egypt, and Jordan (Figure 1) due to the fact that women are not allowed to work, are only responsible for household chores and take care of the children, and are only allowed to go out sometimes for necessary occasions such as buying groceries and other important stuff. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite being a high-income country, only has 41.3% female labour-force participation. We can conclude that due to religion and culture-based context, the participation of women in the labour force can quite differ, like the conservative and non-conservative ones. Nonetheless, female labour-force participation keeps rising not only in developing countries but also in other parts of the world, such as Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

*Malay version of this article was published in Dewan Masyarakat, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Malaysia (DBP) entitled Penyertaan Wanita ASEAN dalam Industri Pelancongan.

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