The current status of women in the Philippines is both a cause for optimism and a reason to accelerate efforts for promoting better access to jobs for all women. On several fronts, the Philippines is a best performer when it comes to gender equality in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) region and even globally. In the latest Global Gender Gap report, the Philippines occupies the 17th place, with 78.4% of its overall gender gap closed to date. This performance is the second best in the EAP region, after New Zealand. A key driver behind the progress has been the Philippine Magna Carta for Women, a landmark law signed nearly 13 years ago seeking to eliminate discrimination against women.
With the impressive performance in closing key gender gaps, it is therefore striking that women’s labor force participation remains persistently low. At just 49%, the Philippines’ female labor force participation in 2019 was one of the lowest in the EAP region (regional average rate is 59%). In contrast, 76% of Filipino men were in the labor force, creating a massive gender gap. Progress towards closing the gap has been minimal and female labor force participation has remained roughly the same since 1990, with the gap shrinking by a mere 0.3 percentage points since 2015.
Women’s low labor force participation represents a missed opportunity for economic growth and increased prosperity in the Philippines. An increase of women’s labor supply by a mere 0.5 percentage points per year would increase gross domestic product (GDP) per capita by about 6% by 2040 and almost 10% by 2050.
In our recent report, Overcoming the Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Philippines, we set out to better understand what is holding women back from the labor market and what is hindering the Philippines’ gain from the growth potential associated with women’s economic empowerment. We document that childcare and social norms about gender roles in the household play a critical role in holding back women’s participation in the labor market in the Philippines. The report adds to our research across the EAP region offering evidence on the linkages between constraints to women’s labor force participation and access to childcare services in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Solomon Islands, and Vietnam.
What are the barriers to women’s labor force participation in the Philippines? We find four main answers: