Economic Crises as Gender Unequal

Women are the worst victims of economic slow-down everywhere. It doesn’t matter whether it is a developed economy or an emerging economy. What is true of the North is equally true of the South. When it comes to uplifting the lives of women and protecting them from market vagaries, no government really rises to the occasion.

The global financial crisis of 2008-09 led to greater job loss and poverty among women than men while rising food prices and responsibility for social reproduction take excessive tolls on the livelihoods of women.

US national unemployment was 10% by September 2010, but in several US counties il was as high as 20 percent. Although manufacturing jobs that are typically "male" such as in automobiles were the first to be hit during the crisis, layoffs in teaching, nursing, the public sector, etc, meant that women's jobs were not growing as fast during the recovery. Similar patterns were observable in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK where female unemployment rates were much higher. As jobless persons are 6 times more likely to be poor than working people, women have higher poverty ratios than men.

Similar impacts were visible in the South. With the deepening recession, export and remittances earnings fell throughout the late 2000s increasing job losses and vulnerability to poverty. Korean women were laid off at seven times the rate that men were in labour intensive export oriented manufacturing. For Indian women who work from their homes, sharp declines in piece rates and opportunities for informal work were observed. In the Philippines, where 9% of the GDP comes from remittances and 70% of the international migrants are women, transfers from abroad not only shore up the balance of payments but also contributed to nearly a third of the decline in poverty ratios in the early 2000s. Job and remittance losses, even from informal, precarious sources, will constrain incomes for poor women and hence also for their families.

Financial and food crises also entail risks for women as direct care-givers. Women typically prepare meals, even grow, prepare and procure food in their households, besides feeding children. Food procurement is highly constrained with livelihood loss. Additionally, the double-digit food price inflation observed in several developing countries, particularly in India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries directly impairs women's ability to provide food with several implications. Several case studies illustrate women's tendency to cut back their own food shares in lean times to feed the men and (male) children, or the increased risk of violence that women face from husbands with poor access to food and uncertainty. Amidst declining real incomes, coping strategies include girls being pulled out of schools to help their mothers, and enable their brothers' education.

Human rights to work, education, health and adequate nourishment are inextricably linked to ending discrimination and unequal gender relations. The social construction of women as care-givers and men as bread-winners is particularly pernicious for human rights. Such norms shape perceptions of women as secondary earners and possessing specific skills and attributes to justify their poorer earnings and position in the labour market compared to men. In OECD countries women are 5 to 15 times more likely to be in relatively poorer-paid occupations such as primary and secondary education, midwifery and nursing secretarial work, personal care-giving etc. In Asia, just as stereotypes of women as obedient, docile and possessing "nimble fingers'" shapes demand for their labour in export oriented manufacturing—garments, toy making etc.—relative lack of mobilization and unionization makes it simpler to cut their wages or fire them. Moreover, women's care-giving responsibilities make them prefer home-based work and hence they become a cheap, flexible, home-based labour force that does not threaten patriarchal hierarchies.

Vol. 46, No. 31, Feb 9 - 15, 2014