New technologies, digitalization, automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are changing the way we work at an unprecedented rate. These changes, accompanied by the promise of economic growth, increased efficiencies, safety and convenience raise questions about their impact on job security and the skills needed for the future of work. As part of the regional project “Women and the Future of Work in Asia”, this paper looks into the implications these developments have for women.
The adoption of new digital technologies means that women across Asia have access to a growing gig economy that allows for flexible, independent work arrangements via digital platforms. Yet, the gig economy may reinforce gender stereotypes and offer precarious working conditions for women due to its high levels of informality. To work towards a more just future of work that entails decent work, among others, four issues need to be addressed:
Employment and pay gap
Women are assumed to be particularly vulnerable to technical unemployment. Many women are in mid-level, routine, non- cognitive jobs in labour-intensive manufacturing sectors, such as garment and footwear, electronics, and automotive production, which could be replaced soon. In contrast, women hold only a small share of the advanced technology jobs (the non-routine, cognitive tasks) that are in demand in the digital economy, where employment expansion and real wage increase is much faster.
Reskilling and upskilling
Because women are particularly prone to technology-induced job loss, feminists explicitly demand support for women to make the transition from low-skill work to medium- or high-skill work. They also acknowledge that women are confronted with higher hurdles than men for reasons such as lack of financial resources and social perceptions about women’s ability to deal with technology.
Gender Digital Divide
A more digital world leaves those who do not have the access or the skills to use digital devices, behind. To prevent this from happening, women should have the same level of digital fluency and access to digital technologies as men do. Data shows that in Asia, women have far less access than men to mobile telephone ownership.
Lack of women in STEM jobs
All around the world, women are underrepresented in science and technology jobs. According to the Institute for Statistics of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 30 per cent of the world’s researchers are women. This also means that women are not part of designing technology and their needs and perspectives get overlooked.
As workflows and labour chains in the digital economy cross national boundaries, regulation is becoming increasingly difficult. Adequate policies to accompany the transition to the digital economy are needed.To ensure that women are not adversely affected and further marginalized and to level the playing field between men and women, economic justice and gender justice need to be brought together. There is a clear mandate for policymakers to become active. Hence, actors throughout Asia must step up their efforts and ensure that all policies related to the digital economy and automation are sufficiently gender mainstreamed. Only when the realization that the future of work affects individuals across society differently is translated into socially just policy outputs will the future hold decent working opportunities for all people.
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