You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1 -13, which are based on Reading Passage 1 below.
A. It is a question officials here in Asia are being posed more and more: Why are your economies so vibrant? Answers include young and swelling populations, decreased debt, growing cities, emerging middle-class consumer sectors, evolving markets and, of course, ( China’s rise. Add this to that list: Women and their increasing role in Asia’s economies. The idea is that the more opportunities women have, the more vibrant economies are and, consequently, the less need there is to amass a huge public debt to boost growth. It is an idea bolstered by a new survey by MasterCard International Inc., which compares the socio-economic level of women with men in Asia-Pacific nations. The gauge uses four key indicators: participation in the labour force, college education, managerial positions, and above-median income.
B. Which Asian nation is doing host when it comes to women’s advancement? Thailand. It scored 92.3 of a possible 100, and according to MasterCard’s index, 100 equals gender equality. The survey was based on interviews with 300 to 350 women in thirteen nations and national statistics. Malaysia came in second with a score of 86.2, while China came in third with 68.4. The average score in Asia was 67.7. At the bottom of the list is South Korea (45.5), followed by Indonesia (52.5), and Japan (54.5). Perhaps it is a bizarre coincidence, yet MasterCard’s findings fit quite neatly with two important issues in Asia: economic leadership and debt. Thailand, Malaysia, and China are three economies widely seen as the future of Asia. Thailand’s economic boom in recent years has prompted many leaders in the region to look at its growth strategy. Malaysia, which has a female central bank governor, is one of Asia’s rising economic powers. China, of course, is the world’s hottest economy, and one that is shaking up trade patterns and business decisions everywhere.
C. Something all three economies have in common is an above-average level of female participation. What the three worst ranked economies share are severe long-term economic challenges of high levels of debt and a female workforce that is being neglected. Research in economic history is very conclusive on the role of women in economic growth and development, says Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, an economic adviser to MasterCard. The more extensive women’s participation at all areas of economic activities, the higher the probability for stronger economic growth. That, Hedrick-Wong says, means societies and economies that consistently fail to fully incorporate women’s ability and talent in businesses, and the workplace will suffer the consequences. Take Korea, which has been walking in place economically in recent years. Immediately following the 1997— 1998 Asian financial crisis, Korea became a regional role model as growth boomed and unemployment fell. Yet a massive increase in household debt left consumers overexposed and growth slowed.
D. Maybe it is a just coincidence that Korea also ranks low on measures of gender equality published by the United Nations. As of 2003, for example, it ranked below Honduras, Paraguay, Mauritius, and Ukraine in terms of women’s economic and political empowerment. Utilising more of its female workforce would deepen Korea’s labour pool and increase potential growth rates in the economy. The same goes for Japan. The reluctance of Asia’s biggest economy to increase female participation and let more women into the executive suite exacerbates its biggest long-term challenge: a declining birth rate. In 2003, the number of children per Japanese woman fell to a record low of 1.29 versus about. 2 in the early 1970s. Preliminary government statistics suggest the rate declined further in 2004. The trend is nothing short of a crisis for a highly indebted nation of 126 million that has yet to figure out how to fund the national pension system down the road. Yet Japan has been slow to realise that for many women, the decision to delay childbirth is a form of rebellion against societal expectations to have children and become housewives,
E. It may be 2005, yet having children is a career-ending decision for millions of bright, ambit ions, and well-educated Japanese, Until corrected, Japan’s birth rate will drop and economic growth will lag, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was absolutely right earlier this month when he said no other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity than the empowerment of women. Here, in Thailand, the government is getting some decent marks in this regard, and the economy’s 6 per cent-plus growth rate may be a direct result. Thailand still has a long way to go. Yet the Bank of Thailand’s deputy governor, Tarisa Watanagase, is a woman, as are seven of nine assistant governors. Then there’s Jada Wattanasiritham, who runs Siam Commercial Bank Plc, Thailand’s fourth-biggest lender. How many female chief executives can you name in Japan or Korea? Looked at broadly in Asia, MasterCard’s survey is on to something. It is that giving women more opportunities to contribute to an economy is not just about fairness, but dollars and sense, too.
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