Today’s global financial crisis is very much reminiscent of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. With the exports and labor-intensive industries being hit harder than Banda Aceh was with the tsunami that swept through its coasts, women were the most adversely affected. This was because of the strong gender composition of many of the most vulnerable industries today.
The International Labor Organization’s technical note entitled Asia in the Global Economic Crisis: Impacts and Responses from a Gender Perspective zeroes in on the seven industry groups considered to have been the most adversely affected by the crisis: textiles, garments, footwear & leather products, electronics, car manufacturing and auto-parts, hotels and restaurants, and construction. According to the technical note, women laborers greatly outnumber men in many of the industries cited above, particularly those in the textiles, garments, footwear & leather products, and hotels and restaurants industries.
Many of these women workers, especially in countries like Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam, however, are engaged in unskilled or semi-skilled work. This means that if the workplace were a pyramid, women occupy the lower part, making them the first ones the company will bid a fond farewell to, now that laying-off season has arrived. This occurrence is greatly manifested in the fact that women make up majority of the “buffer workforce”—the casuals, contractuals, and the homeworkers—who are taken in when there’s a boom in the economy and more workers are needed to meet the production quotas; and who are easily expelled when an economic bust is lurking in the corner.
The jobs that many of these women dip their hands into as mobile workers not only generate extremely low incomes (which translates to low or no savings), but also expose them to bad working conditions which threaten their health and productivity. Since many of these women are forced to take up two or three jobs at once owing to the low income levels they have to put up with, their relationships with their spouses and children are often strained.
Women today face higher expectations—to play the role of mothers, wives, income-earners, and home makers all at once. Several households today rely on more than one breadwinner just to make ends meet. This means that today, the traditional view of men as the sole breadwinners and women as care takers no longer hold any water.
There is a pressing need for the government to invest in educating and empowering women especially at the grassroots level, in order to end the vicious cycle of poverty that many of the women in developing countries are forced to hand down from generation to generation. Unless the governments of various developing countries will consider looking at the financial crisis from a gender perspective, the solutions that many of their economic councils are whipping up may not necessarily be enough.