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Investing in Women


  • Despite progress, women are less likely than men to work fulltime, progress their careers, and earn a comparable salary.
  • Investing in Women promotes inclusive economic growth through women’s economic empowerment.
  • Investing in Women promoted gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in South East Asia.
The Challenge

While gender gaps are shrinking for some labour market outcomes, substantial challenges remain globally and in South East 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 bear a much higher burden of unpaid work. Women-owned businesses could be a large source of job creation for women, stimulating innovation and changes in production and marketing. But they face systemic barriers to their growth, including financial institutions’ unwillingness to provide adequate services.

In times of crises, women face a great impact from gender biases. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how deeply ingrained discriminatory traditions and beliefs are. Biases that see caring and domestic work as women’s responsibility meant that women carried the extra load during the COVID outbreak when schools and businesses closed and people had to stay home. Their careers and businesses suffer, leading to backsliding on women’s economic empowerment and gender equality. Put simply, these gender gaps are a constraint to economic growth and business competitiveness in the region.

The Approach

Investing in Women, an initiative of the Australian Government, promotes inclusive economic growth through women’s economic empowerment in South East Asia. Established in 2016, Investing in Women tackles one of the most critical social and economic issues of our time: gender inequality.

Investing in Women uses innovative approaches to improve women’s economic participation as employees and as entrepreneurs and to influence the enabling environment for women’s economic empowerment in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar through:

  • Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) – IW supports business coalitions that work with influential businesses on shifting workplace cultures, practices, and policy barriers to achieve WGE.
  • Impact Investment for Women’s SMEs – IW partners with impact investors and entrepreneurs to expand market opportunities for women, with a view to incentivising and catalysing access to capital for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) led by and responsive to the needs of women
  • Influencing Gender Norms – IW works with partners towards a positive shift in attitudes and practices to support women in the world of work.

In collaboration with corporations and business leaders, impact investors, entrepreneurs, and advocates, Investing in Women works to promote women’s economic empowerment in our region.

The Results

Over the life of the program, Investing in Women established the Indonesia Business Coalition for Women’s Empowerment, the Philippine Business Coalition for Gender Equality, the Vietnam Business Coalition for Women Empowerment, and the Business Coalition for Gender Equality in Myanmar. They provide four core services to companies aspiring to achieve gender equality in their workplaces: WGE assessment, employee surveys, training, and policy advisory.

More than 117 companies have signed up as members of these business coalitions, comprising over one million employees. About 66 companies have undertaken a WGE assessment and committed to over 550 actions. The coalitions have also delivered 228 training sessions on topics such as unconscious bias in the workplace, action against sexual harassment, and diversity and inclusion.

Impact Investment for Women’s SMEs 

Through partnerships with 10 impact investors, Investing in Women funding of AUD 15.3 million has been invested into 79 women’s SMEs (WSMEs). Partners have put an additional AUD 264 million in private capital and AUD 18 million in public co-investments into these deals. As a result of this work, partners have launched further gender-focused funds currently valued at around AUD 217 million. 

The 79 funding recipients operate across a range of sectors, including agriculture and food security, technology platforms, business process automation, pharmacies, education and training, logistics, and healthcare. Overall, these companies have supported over 4,505 full-time quality jobs, 56% of which are filled by women.

At the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, Investing in Women launched the Responsive Interventions Supporting Entrepreneurs Fund to assist in the recovery of women’s SMEs in South East Asia. The Macquarie Group contributed an additional AUD 1.25 million to establish the IW-Macquarie RISE Fund. The fund contributed to the economic recovery of the Philippines by enabling investment into 16 WSMEs, supporting over 1,176 full-time, quality jobs.

Influencing Gender Norms 

Investing in Women partnered with a total of 12 local partners to implement campaigns that aim to embolden urban millennials to improve their attitudes and perceptions around sharing caregiver and wage-earning roles, job segregation, and women’s leadership abilities. These campaigns have reached over 109 million people in three countries.  Investing in Women has supported research into gender norms through campaign partners and researchers to develop a broader understanding of gender norms and how they change.

Looking Ahead

To build further momentum for women’s economic empowerment in South East Asia, Australia’s Department of Foreign Trade and Affairs has a new phase of the program in 2023 as part of its commitment to advancing gender equality in the region.

Building on the strengths of Investing in Women’s lessons, networks, and partnerships, the new phase will play a significant role in building more cohesive, dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economies in a post-pandemic South East Asia.