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Global Recession Hitting Women Harder Than Men

Akito Yoshikane

The financial crisis has been trying for working women and men alike.

But with gender disparities in unemployment and wages being a historically intractable issue, what kind of impact has the crisis had on gender equality in the labor sector?

A report on global economic trends by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) says that in 2009 there could be 22 million more unemployed women in the world. Moreover, women are more likely to be negatively impacted by the recession than men.

In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals, which encompassed eight principles for global development – including gender equality. 192 member states agreed to them.

But the recession could potentially hamper gains toward female empowerment before 2015, when the millennium goals are supposed to be met. One marker of the gender disparity is the unemployment rate.

According to the report, women make up 1.2 billion (or 40 percent) of the 3 billion employed workers worldwide. The ILO estimates that unemployment levels could reach between 6.5 and 7.4 percent for women, compared to 6.3 or 7.1 percent for men.

Juan Somavia, director-general for the International Labour Organization sums it up succinctly:

Gender inequality in the world of work has long been with us – but it is likely that it will be exacerbated by the crisis. In times of economic upheaval, women often experience the negative consequences more rapidly and are slower to enjoy the benefits of recovery. And already before the crisis, the majority of working women were in the informal economy with lower earnings and less social protection.

The report highlights the tendency for women to be stuck in the agriculture and service sector or the informal economy. They are more vulnerable to unemployment in Latin American and Caribbean areas.

And even in developing economies with exports in sectors like textiles, electronics, the falling consumer demand has caused employment to contract. In Nicaragua, for example, women made up 85 percent of the 25,000 jobs lost in the maquila sector; most of them were heads of the household.

The recession will push women into jobs that are vulnerable and unstable, the ILO says, adding insult to the fact they are already paid less than men in a shrinking employment market.

The deterioration of the global labor market hurts both men and women, but in developing economies, women are bearing the brunt of the downturn.

Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
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