Some commentators on the current economic crisis have suggested that gender balance may be improved by this dire situation, in that most of the miscreant CEOs who will be fired or ‘retired’ are men, thus leaving a higher proportion of women in the labour market. If these survivors will be promoted to the gaps becoming available or will just stay crouched under the glass ceiling in the middle & junior ranks they now occupy is not so clear. In any case this hardly looks like a revolution in the making.
In developing countries the pursuit of macro-economic policies such as Structural Adjustment by organizations like the World Bank and the IMF (Note: Since the G20 Summit of April, 2009 the IMF is charged with dismantling the economic order it promoted) have not been favourable to women’ employment and economic empowerment. Typically the conditionality imposed on the governments has resulted in reductions in lower level civil service jobs traditionally occupied by women, and smaller government expenditures on health, education and social welfare affect women disproportionately as managers of their family’s well-being. The family still needs food and health care even if it is no longer provided by the government and normally that is women’s work. Furthermore the reduced resources available for education will often be considered to be better spent on boys.
What do we now know about the gendered effects of the current crisis in the developing world? An e-consultation conducted by UNDP confirms that some of the sectors first to be affected in countries such as Cambodia and Thailand are tourism and textiles, both of which employ many women. Women are traditionally the first to be laid off especially if they are pregnant.
Another negative impact for both men and women which has already been documented is the reduction in migrant labour & therefore of the remittances on which the family
depends. Migrant labourers are usually the first to be laid off & return home to compete for scarce jobs on the labour market.
As under Structural Adjustment impoverished governments reduce the services to their citizens which increases the burden of care on women who are the primary and unpaid care providers in society. Some of the ‘coping’ strategies reported include removing children from school & taking on additional work, including prostitution. The link between increased poverty and increased vulnerability particularly of women and girls to trafficking is also well-recognized.