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Global Crisis Worse For Asian Women Workers

Inquirer.net, News Report, Veronica Uy Posted: Mar 06, 2009

MANILA, PhilippinesThe global financial crunch affects women workers in Asia more severely than men workers in the region, said an International Labor Office study released Thursday.

ILO director-general Juan Somavia cited another study, the ILO Global Employment Trends for Women 2009, and said the crisis could increase the number of jobless women to 22 million.

In her paper, Asia in the Global Economic Crisis: Impacts and Responses from a Gender Perspective, Amelita King Dejardin said the gender bias of the crisis is due to a number of reasons.

Primary among them is the concentration of Asian women workers in labor-intensive export industries as Asian men tend to be distributed in a wider range of economic sectors, said Dejardin, senior technical adviser in the Policy Integration and Statistics Department of the ILO.

It follows that shrinking global demand for clothes, textiles and electronics (as well as for related business services like hotels and restaurants) means that women will be the first to lose their jobs, Dejardin said.

The ILO official said the region went through a similar experience during the 1997 Asian economic crisis. In Thailand 95 percent of those laid off from the garment sector were women, in the toys sector is was 88 percent. In Korea 86 percent of those who lost their financial services and banking jobs were female, she said.

Asian womens place in the labor hierarchy is another reason.

Women are also concentrated in the lower levels of these global supply chains, in casual, temporary, sub-contracted, and informal employment, where work is insecure, wages low, working conditions poor, and workers least likely to be protected by conventional social insurance systems, she said.

As the dominant force in the informal sector, she said women have less access to social protection.

In the Philippines, this was pointed out by the "Partido ng Manggagawa" [Workers' Party] over the last few days in a run-up to International Womens Day celebration on March 8.

Dejardin said that when women workers lose their jobs, more people (their children and other dependents) are affected, especially among the poor. She said the poorer the family, the more the womens earnings go to the familys subsistence, and childrens health and education.

And even as companies try schemes such as reduced work week and work rotation to keep the business afloat, women are still more affected, she said.

Dejardin said women workers tend to work in lower paid jobs so they tend to save less, making them and their dependents vulnerable to the pay cuts that cost-cutting schemes make.

The regions experience in 1997 supports this concern; a survey in the Philippines found that when a male worker lost his job, 65 percent of households reported a fall in income, but when a woman worker was retrenched 94 percent of households had less money, she said.

The effect of pay cuts or job losses to women workers affect families.

More households of retrenched women workers cut back on their meals than those where men had lost work, she said.

Dejardin said women workers from poorer households also work as unpaid caregiver at home (for children, the elderly, or sick family members), so in tough times women tend to be stretched more between their conflicting responsibilities.

However, she recognized that in some sectors like migrant work for health care and domestic jobs, women workers will fare better than their male counterparts in the construction, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors.

In some areas or sectors men will bear the brunt. For example, demand for female workers could rise as regular workers are replaced by casuals, she added.

Dejardin thus advised all stakeholders -- governments, employers, and workers organizations -- to take the perspective of both men and women when they discuss policies to combat the social and economic effects of the crisis.

She advised against the mistakes of these responses to the Asian 1997 crisis when most of the efforts and money went to infrastructure, which is dominated by men.

Dejardin said jobs for women must be open, if not expanded to include social services, health care, education, child and youth development.

Recruitment strategies must be created to reach women. Child care facilities must be included. Initiatives specially targeting unemployed women are needed. Economic and fiscal stimulus packages must include support for microfinance which has been extremely effective in helping women start small businesses, she said, enumerating her recommendations.

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