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Recasting the role of women in economies: what can be learned from the economic crisis

Lowly paid, subjected to onerous laws, lacking social protection, working in informal sectorsโ€”many women around the world participating in economic activity are already at the lower end of the economic scale. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008, many women were even worsely affected. As economies suffered, women suffered more severely.

The afternoon session on the first day of the ESCAP meeting to review the Beijing Platform for Action focused on โ€œResponses to the economic crisis โ€“ women's economic security and rights.โ€ Women and Economy is one of the critical areas of the BPFA and also covered under the CEDAW. Most governments have prioritised commitments to trade and economic agreements over their commitments to human rights documents such as the CEDAW. In this session, the situation of women in the aftermath of the global economic crisis was examined and how it presents an opportunity to develop new paradigms of economic development that accounts for the entirety of women's and men's social and economic participation and safeguarding their social and economic rights.

At the panel discussion, Bijaya Rai Shrestha, a Nepali former migrant worker and programme coordinator of Pourakhi shared how, during the economic crisis many Nepali migrant workers lost employment. They are also reportedly working for less pay. Those who have also lost their jobs made them vulnerable to exploitation. Additionally, women who lost their jobs also did not receive adequate compensation when their contracts were cut short. She said that while the Nepali government created safety net programmes for returning unemployed migrant workers, few were able to avail of such benefits because of lack of information dissemination.

Carolyn Hannan, director of the UN Division for the Advancement of Women presented results of a world survey of women's access to economic assets. She cited how microfinance programs have not guaranteed empowerment of women, and had a tendency to be commercialised that resulted in a negative impact on women entrepreneurs.

Moreover, social security measures in the form of allowances for child welfare, employment benefits and health insurance, as well as access to these resources is unequal between men and women. โ€œWomen's economic empowerment and the distribution of resources have largely been ignored in macroeconomic policies.โ€ She also highlighted the disparity between men's and women's paid and unpaid work. โ€œWhile women's employment has increased over the past decades, there has been no significant increase in men's sharing in unpaid work, including caregiving.โ€ She pointed out how an economic crisis makes women take on extra work in informal sector jobs which are poorly paid and with bad work conditions, and that they also are forced to compensate for diminishing education and health care services to ensure the well-being of their families.

Many governments responded to the economic crisis by setting up stimulus packages for their citizens. Hannan commented that, โ€œIt is very important that whatever stimulus packages, make investments in both physical and social infrastructure, provide and create employment that benefit both women and men and take into account both paid and unpaid work and also maintain adequate resources for the promotion of gender equality.โ€

Feminist economist Devaki Jain used the example of a woman waste picker in India whose income was decreased when the economic downturn caused Chinese companies to pay less for recyclable waste materials that this women gathered for a living. She cited how countries such as India and China are building their economies on the strength of (mostly) women's low-paid labour. She shared how she and fellow feminist economists are attempting to re-rationalise economics, taking in account the difference between North and South economies and finding solutions to improve women's conditions in the region.

While acknowledging that there are many issues taken on by activists in calling for compliance to the BPFA, she pointed out that: โ€œIn the South, the critical issues is employment. And so for the less privileged women of the South, it is protecting their livelihoods, their widespread and deep participation in production and trade...We should shift our work and advocacies from gender equality to looking at the location of women in the political economy.โ€ She added that especially for the Asia Pacific region: โ€œwe should make decent work and employment with a decent wage, the engine of our growth.โ€

She urged three recommendations on the ESCAP countries :

  1. setting a minimum wage across the region to prevent exploitative practice of multinationals of employing people who are willing to work for the least amount of money a phenomenon she called 'race to the bottom';
  2. having an ASEAN or South Asian development plan for maximising employment for all; and
  3. increasing women inputs in spaces for political and economic policy-making, such as the ASEAN meetings.
She concluded with a challenge: โ€œIt's my belief that the Beijing Platform for Action, though it served a great purpose in 1995 up to now, that is not the platform for action that we should take after 2010. We have to design a new platform for action which takes note of the changes in the global economy and the way women are located and the experiences we have from ASEAN, and Latin America. As long as we continue to churn out the same medicine from what we did in '95, we will not be able to change the condition of women.โ€

Emil From: Source: WUNRN ( )

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