The Asia Foundation and the Department of State Release Research Report on Barriers to Women in Business

Washington, DC, March 6, 2013 — The Asia Foundation announces the release of the recently published research report, Access to Trade and Growth of Women’s SMEs in APEC Developing Economies: Evaluating Business Environments in Malaysia – Philippines – Thailand – a joint initiative of The Asia Foundation, the Department of State, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). While women’s contribution to economies is increasing, there remain a set of institutionalized barriers in place which limit the ability of women-run businesses to reach their full potential. To increase understanding of these factors, research was conducted in three Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines – using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to assess areas that encourage or deter access to trade and growth of women-run or owned small or medium enterprises (SMEs).

The recently published report suggests a distinct set of economic, political and social factors that affect women-run and owned SMEs. The report includes specific recommendations where governments and regional bodies such as APEC can take steps to build a more inclusive and enabling business environment to build the potential of women to contribute to national and regional economies.

On Monday, March 11, 2013, The U.S. Department of State and The Asia Foundation will publicly launch the report at the United States Mission to the United Nations. This event will be held in conjunction with the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, which will be held in New York City from March 4-15, 2013. For more information or to attend the results launch, please contact Kate Bollinger at

Key Findings include:

  • Women’s access to networks is an important factor in business success. Women-owned firms that interact with business associations are on average 38 percent larger than those that do not.
  • Across countries surveyed, women business owners hired 17 percent more women employees than men business owners.

  • Having a relative in business is a big boost for business women. Among women-owned firms, those with a relative in business are 46% larger than those without.
  • Social biases are in place which may limit the potential of women-run businesses.
  • Women owners were 12% less likely to be aware of new technologies that would help them.

  • The complexity of the loan application process is a major obstacle for women-owned SMEs. In Malaysia, 28% more women business owners than men, and 47% more women exporters, cited completing application paperwork as their most significant challenge in the loan process.
  • Women SME owners surveyed in Malaysia and Thailand have negative perceptions of government. In Malaysia, over 40% of respondents found government to be unsupportive or hostile. In Thailand, women owners were 21% less likely than men owners to think that government was very or somewhat accessible.

To learn more about challenges women business owners face across Asia, download the full report, read our In Asia blog and infographic, and watch a new video on Access to Trade and Growth of Women’s SMEs in APEC Developing Countries.

Read more about The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program. For media inquiries, please visit the Press Room.

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Media contacts

Amy Ovalle, Vice President, Global Communications

Eelynn Sim, Director, Media & Strategy


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