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Even It Up – Inequality in Asia

watermelon manAsia’s success in growing its economy masks the reality of growing gap between rich and poor with almost half a billion people left behind in poverty. This rising inequality is now a threat to the region’s security and growth.

Such economic inequality interacts and is driven by other longstanding discriminations against women, ethnic minorities and lower castes among other marginalised groups. Limited economic opportunities and exclusion from political power can trap such groups at the bottom of the ladder.

Asia is at a crossroads. It could continue with the existing policies and risk political, economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Or it could make a turnaround by addressing inequality more seriously in all aspects to sustain its economic progress.

Oxfam recommends that an Asian approach to tackling inequality should prioritise five inter-reliant pillars which will start to move us all towards a future of health and education for all, fair access to land and other productive resources, living wages and fair taxation.

If Asia’s policymakers hold tight to yesterday’s truths, hoping against hope that an expanding economy will trickle down to all, they will put everyone’s welfare at risk. But if there are courageous leaders, willing to tackle inequality head-on, they can ensure continued progress toward an inclusive and sustainable development for all of Asia’s people.

Did you know?

  • Almost every Asian country has grown wealthier since 1990 but inequality has increased. In the last two decades, the Gini coefficient (standard measurement of economic inequality) for the region has increased an astounding 18 percent.
  • Research from Asian Development Bank (ADB) suggests that an additional 240 million people in Asia could have escaped from extreme poverty, had growth been more equitably distributed over the past two decades.
  • Together China and India now have 1.3 million millionaires between them and at the same time there are estimated to be more than 300 million people still living in extreme poverty in these two countries
  • The region’s richest man is worth $31 billion yet almost half a billion people survive on $1.25 a day in Asia. It would take on of these poor individuals almost 68 million years to earn that much money, even assuming they could save all of their daily earnings.
  • In countries like India and Pakistan, fewer than one in three women hold paid work, and of these more than four out of five have low-end insecure jobs in the informal economy.
  • An estimate shows that the GDP of India, Malaysia and Indonesia could be 2-4% higher if the rate of women’s employment matched that of developed countries.
  • In Asia, women and girls represent two-thirds of all people living in poverty. To make matters worse, women’s under-representation in the political sphere hinders challenging such inequalities.
  • More than 260 million people are affected by caste discrimination worldwide and the majority of them live in South Asia
  • Some countries are acknowledging the risk of inequality and beginning to take action. Several Asian countries, including China and Thailand, are rapidly scaling-up public investment in healthcare and education.

Take Action
To find out more about Oxfam’s global campaign and to take action visit: www.oxfam.org/even-it-up

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