Women suffer most from economic crises

Published by rudy Date posted on April 30, 2011

At the onset of the global financial crisis, 42-year-old Rosita Vergara lost her job along with some 300 workers in an export-processing zone in Calamba, Laguna.

Her husband, who works in the same manufacturing firm, was retained. Pressed to sustain the school needs of their four children, she had to open a small store of dry goods in San Pedro, Laguna’s public market. Vergara consequently joined the more than 15 million in the vulnerable employment sector in the Philippines workers with no social benefits, no fixed salary and with uncertain futures.

The recent joint report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), titled “Women and Labor Markets in Asia: Rebalancing for Gender Equality,” said women in Asia, particularly in export-oriented industries, were hard hit by the first round of impact in terms of job losses in export industries.

The report said women’s lack of access to decent jobs and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region results in annual losses worth $42 billion to $47 billion, while those employed are among the first to bear the brunt of job losses due to the global financial crisis.

Although women in the Asian region remain to be the primary drivers of growth compared with their counterparts in other region, the ILO said the potential of women in Asia remains untapped and the quality of their employment leaves them vulnerable and disadvantaged than men.

It noted that the quality of jobs created for women remains a major concern in the Asian region. At least 45 percent of the vast productive potential of Asian women remains untapped, compared with just 19 percent for Asian men.

“Asia faces both old and new challenges, and it needs to address both if it is to reap the social and economic benefits of gender equality,” said Sachiko Yamamoto, ILO regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

“The drive to rebalance toward more sustainable, fairer development must not distract policymakers from dealing with ingrained gender inequalities. One cannot succeed without the other, and the social and economic costs of missing this opportunity will be felt for decades,” he added.

The report noted that vulnerable employment now accounts for half of total employment in Asia and the share of women is higher than men.

Vulnerable employment is defined as a measure of persons who are employed under precarious conditions. These workers are less likely to have formal work arrangements, access to benefits or social protection programs, and are more at risk to economic cycles.

Informal street venders

Vergara had tried to earn as much as she could selling some dry goods in the market but like many other venders in the market, she had to depend on the informal-loan system prevailing in the Philippines that charges high interest rates. For almost two years, her family had become heavily indebted from the so-called loan sharks, those lending institutions, mostly unregistered in the government that impose exorbitant interests. The family has incurred a total of P100,000 loans. Her two children had to stop schooling, one of them was about to graduate in college, but had to seek job as service crew in a fast-food store.

The ILO and the ADB report said women accounted for 61 percent of all informal traders in the Philippines. “Like all informal workers, informal street venders lack legal status, representation and voice.” These informal workers, according to the report, “experience several problems specific to their trade: difficulty finding secure spaces to sell from; harassment, demands for bribes, evictions from selling places, arrest and confiscation of goods by authorities, who often see street venders as a nuisance or obstruction to other commerce and to traffic; lack of services and infrastructure, such as water, electricity, waste removal, latrines, shelter, storage space and financial services; high risk for diseases transmitted by vermin, lead poisoning.”

The job loss impact of the global financial crisis in Asia was severe since the labor-intensive export sectors were doubly vulnerable, said the report.

It noted that exports declined drastically in textiles, apparel and clothing, leather and footwear and electronics—and this had severe impact on women.

The impact of the crisis in the Philippines was severely felt in the mass lay-offs in the export processing zones where 75 percent of workers are women, said the report.

“The labor burden on women has increased in the face of the crisis, as they are forced to evolve alternatives to cushion the blow of poverty,” said the ILO-ADB report. The report said women, particularly in the Philippines, are expected to take “second jobs” or “sidelines” and other alternative-income sources that will bridge the family from one day to the next.

Support for women

ILO country director for the Philippines Lawrence Jeff Johnson said the government needs to focus attention not just to the 2.5 million unemployed population, or 7 percent of the 35 million considered as economically active population. He said the number of those in the vulnerable employment continues to increase, now at 15 million, or 42 percent, of economically active people. The lingering impact of the global financial crisis evident in the stagnant growths in the US and Europe still raises a lot of concerns that those in the vulnerable employment sector is likely to increase.

But like many Filipino families, seeking jobs abroad remains as the common recourse to sustain the financial needs of the family. Rosita’s husband sough a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as cashier so that their two younger children can continue with their schooling and to pay their debts that continue to balloon due to interests.

What is worse, though, is that the social cause of having a dysfunctional family. Rosita does not worry much on paying her debts but more on imposing discipline to her teenage male children growing without their father.

The report of the ILO and the ADB suggested key policies Asian government could adopt to increase the productivity of women in the region. These include increasing government’s support for women entrepreneurs; assisting women working in agriculture to boost productivity; reducing Asia’s overreliance on the informal sector; promoting equal access to quality education and training; gender-responsive social protection; and ensuring equality in representation and decision-making.

While government experts try to find solutions to the harsh conditions of women, particularly those in the vulnerable sector, Rosita’s hope is for her children to finish their formal schooling and be able to land in decent jobs.

“Mas masakit makita ’yung paghihirap na dinanas mo noon ay mauulit din sa mga anak ko [It is more difficult to see my children not being able to get decent jobs and suffering the same miseries we’ve gone through].” –Estrella Torres / Reporter, Businessworld

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