As the spotlight seeks out and illuminates areas still lagging on gender parity, certain regions of Asia are in danger of being left in the dark.

Singapore repeatedly posts encouraging results on female health, maternal mortality rates, and overall safety for women. However, given that Singapore is the region’s wealthiest country, it is irresponsible to assume that this progression is representative of the rest of the region.

Patriarchal norms and biases were especially evident during the pandemic and continue to pervade much of the region, with experts estimating that 4.5 million girls would likely never return to school. COVID-19 and the following restrictions also complicated access to necessary sexual and reproductive health information and services for women and girls.

The pivotal shift towards gender equality is essential for economic growth and progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Women comprise around 70% of the informal economy, which consists mainly of traditional and low-paying jobs, making them more susceptible to poor working environments and vulnerable to harassment. Moreover, inequalities in the workplace fuel the still pervasive barriers that prevent women from ascending to the low 5% of Fortune 500 women CEOs.

With figures such as these displaying the patriarchal attitudes and structures seemingly profoundly ingrained in these societies, it can be challenging to see a clear path toward gender equality in the region. It can be easy to fall into a routine of firefighting and symptom treatment rather than getting to the root cause of the issue.

One school of thought suggests that uprooting the deep-seated institutional attitudes and gender biases begins with the socially-conscious younger generation. From this perspective, education is the catalyst for the social transformation needed for a more equal world. Therefore, the education systems that shape our youth must evolve to focus on holistic development to better equip new generations in the fight for equality in our modern society.

This is the approach taken by the RYTHM Foundation, an initiative founded by the Hong Kong-based QI Group. Spearheading the group’s social impact initiatives, RYTHM embodies the message of its acronym: “Raise Yourself To Help Mankind.”

The three core focus areas of the RYTHM Foundation are inclusive and equitable quality education for all, gender equality through empowering women and girls, and sustainable community development.

A key gender empowerment initiative by RYTHM is the Maharani Program in Malaysia. The project supports and guides at-risk adolescent girls from low-income and vulnerable communities through their formative years. It gives them access to skills training, academic coaching, and personal development opportunities to realize their potential.

Over the past 11 years, Maharani has equipped more than 7,000 girls with the tools and knowledge to build better futures, including learning about gender identity and equality, sexual and reproductive health, ethnicity and culture, and the importance of physical and spiritual wellness. In addition, by inculcating an understanding of gender dynamics from an early age, the program aims to encourage self-confidence, well-being, peer acceptance, and social support.

The Foundation’s Chairperson, Umayal Eswaran, stresses the urgency for a systemic advancement of gender equality in Asia. “Gender equality requires economic empowerment to uplift women and girls. However, it also demands that we dismantle the harmful beliefs and gender biases that prevent them from reaching their full potential.

“Our interventions tackle the complex mix of historical and sociocultural root causes of gender disparity alongside improving their access to economic resources, which have proven to be a fundamental combination in addressing gender imbalances across the region,” Umayal adds.

The Foundation has also rolled out projects in rural India focusing on capacity-building for women from low-income and underserved communities. An example of inequality in the subcontinent paints a grim picture. 75% of women in India are agricultural workers, yet only 10% own a piece of land.

RYTHM strives to help these women gain employment and financial independence through various vocational and entrepreneurship training programs in collaboration with partners across the country.

RYTHM’s projects in Asia also span Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. In addition, plans are underway to expand further within ASEAN. As part of its commitment to bringing about sustainable community development, the Foundation focuses on implementing projects with a minimum duration of 3 years.

“We aim to enable communities to build resilience and become self-sustaining long after the programs conclude,” explains Vijay Eswaran, Founder and Executive Chairman of the QI Group. These programs have benefited an estimated 80,000 people in over 20 countries, including more than 17,000 youth.

“Holistic learning and development are key to all the Foundation’s programs, and they have enabled us to help youth and adults from marginalized communities break the cycle of inequalities to vastly improve their lives ,” he outlines.

Vijay stresses that a one-company army cannot fight this uphill battle. “Our impact comes with proper planning, the dedication of resources, and effort. However, the proof is in the pudding, and we believe that every organization can positively impact its region by redirecting its focus to community development over social responsibility.”

To underline the Foundation’s pivotal role in QI’s plans, the group has committed 10% of its revenues to empowering lives and transforming communities through its programs.

With this pledge, the QI Group is incontrovertibly tackling the root causes of gender disparity and other inequalities that pervade the region by turning awareness into action. It is the hope that with these comprehensive and community-driven educational solutions, through dynamic collaborations at the grassroots level, a new Asia is sown—one where women and girls lead equal and equitable lives.