This page is optimized for a taller screen. Please rotate your device or increase the size of your browser window.

Investing in Women


  • While progress has been made, women continue to face challenges accessing quality jobs, progressing their careers, or securing finance to grow their businesses.
  • By tackling barriers to women’s economic participation, Investing in Women supports inclusive and sustainable economic development in Southeast Asia.
  • Investing in Women is helping to grow a powerful ecosystem of policymakers, business leaders, capital providers and women’s economic empowerment actors.
The Challenge

While gender gaps are shrinking for some labour market outcomes, substantial challenges remain globally and in Southeast Asia. Detailed examination of data indicates that women are much less likely to work full-time than men and are less likely to progress their careers. They earn much less than men on average, even with similar education levels, skill sets, and working hours. They also take on a disproportionate share of care work. As entrepreneurs, women face systemic barriers to growing their businesses, including inadequate access to appropriate financial services.

In times of crises, women face a great impact from gender biases. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how discriminatory traditions and beliefs are deeply ingrained. Biases that see caring and domestic work as women’s responsibility meant that women carried the extra load when schools and businesses closed and people had to stay home. Without policy frameworks in place to support the recognition, reduction, or redistribution of care responsibilities, women’s careers and businesses suffer, leading to backsliding on women’s economic empowerment and gender equality indicators. Put simply, these gender gaps constrain economic recovery, business competitiveness, and inclusive development in the region.

The Approach

Investing in Women (IW), an initiative of the Australian Government, promotes inclusive economic growth through women’s economic empowerment in Southeast Asia. IW uses innovative approaches to improve women’s economic participation as employees and as entrepreneurs. The initiative influences the enabling environments for women’s economic empowerment in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam through:

  • Workplace Gender Equality: supporting Business Coalitions that work with influential businesses on shifting workplace cultures, practices, and policy to achieve workplace gender equality (WGE). 
  • Enabling Policy Reform: working with credible local institutions to strengthen the evidence base and drive collective action needed to inform policy that supports women’s equal economic participation, particularly related to the care economy.
  • Campaigns and Communities of Practice: supporting locally driven campaigns and working with a community of advocates to positively shift gender norms and promote gender-equal attitudes and behaviours.
  • Gender Lens Investing: increasing access to capital for businesses that disproportionately benefit women by partnering with capital providers on gender lens investing (GLI) strategies and products.
The Results

Since its establishment in 2016, IW contributions to advancing women’s economic empowerment in the region include:

Workplace Gender Equality

IW established four business coalitions (BCs) in target countries, which provide support to companies aspiring to achieve gender equality in their workplaces. IW and the BCs co-developed the Gender Equality Assessment, Results, and Strategies assessment, the first WGE tool designed specifically for the ASEAN market.

More than 128 companies,  comprising almost one million employees, have already signed up as BC members. About 96 companies have undertaken a WGE assessment and committed to more than 602 actions. The BCs have also delivered 239 training sessions on topics such as unconscious bias in the workplace, action against sexual harassment, and diversity and inclusion.

Campaigns and Communities of Practice

To date, IW has partnered with 12 local organisations to implement 20 campaigns to engage urban millennials in changing attitudes and perceptions around sharing caregiver and wage-earning roles, job segregation, and women’s leadership abilities. These campaigns have reached more than 109 million people in three countries.  IW has supported research to develop a broader understanding of gender norms and how they change over time.

Gender Lens Investing 

Through partnerships with 10 impact investors to date, IW funding of AUD 15.4 million has been invested into 82 women’s SMEs (WSMEs) across a range of sectors that disproportionately benefit women. Partners have sourced an additional AUD 273.3 million in private capital and AUD 18.1 million in public co-investments to finance these deals. As a result, partners have launched further gender-focused funds currently valued at around AUD 217 million. Over the same period, research by Investing in Women showed a sevenfold increase in the value of deals made with a gender lens in Southeast Asia.

IW continues to create more demand for funds that are investing with a gender lens by engaging capital providers. IW also works with local impact investors to test innovative financial solutions for small but growing WSMEs and continues to deploy capital to funds that have adopted a gender lens through the IW Fund, in partnership with Australian Development Investments.