Women may already hold up half the sky, but their burden is about to get heavier in this financial crisis.
In ordinary times, women and girls are the majority of the world’s poor and illiterate, but in times of financial crisis, women and girls are disproportionately impacted. Exactly how is a very important question—not only to chart solutions, but also to prevent the reversal of significant gains made in women’s rights.
To tell us how were Caren Grown, economist at American University, and Maya Rockeymoore, President of Global Policy Solutions. Over 75 listeners called in for a webinar, “Women's Work: A New Blueprint for Economic Recovery,” sponsored by the Global Fund for Women and the Women’s Foundation of California.
One obvious way women will be impacted is that many women will earn less, but Grown said this depends on the sector, occupation and country. When the financial crisis hit Asia in 1997, more men than women lost jobs in the Philippines, whereas in South Korea, for every man, seven women were laid off. In a bizarre twist of patriarchal irony, the Korean government launched a "get your husband energized" campaign encouraging women to support depressed male partners.
Today, 60 percent of the global workforce are now women, which means policymakers will have to eliminate “breadwinner bias," an assumption that men are more entitled to paid work than women.
Furthermore, women will have to do more with less, as food and fuel prices rise, and because key public services will be cut, such as education and health care. This doesn’t bode well for the gains made to some of the world’s most intractable problems through investments in girl’s education.
Yet the predominant government response (by 60 countries) to the crisis has been stimulus packages focused on physical infrastructure, creating jobs in sectors mostly dominated by men. Yet we need investments in social infrastructure -- education, public health, childcare, and community services – both because these sectors are where women are more often employed, and because they benefit communities as a whole. Social infrastructure creates jobs for women!
According to Rockeymoore, the sub-prime mortgage crisis wasn’t contained to just low-income communities of color. Women, regardless of race and class, were disproportionately targeted for these risky loans. Yes we need tighter regulations of financial transactions to reduce volatility, but we also need more women at the finance table for more transparency and accountability. Studies show that male testosterone played a role in driving the crisis, whereas women, who are more risk-averse, can put a much-needed brake on risky activity. (see related New Yorker articles “Cocksure” and on Sheila Bair).
The two presenters proposed long-term solutions, like reinstating affirmative action for women, and foundations investing in advocacy and grassroots organizing, and immediate actions, such as the one in Vermont where women state legislators organized to mandate that the state document beneficiaries of the stimulus package by race, ethnicity and sex. Rockeymoore reinforced the need to reclaim democracy as U.S. policies and the rules of the capitalism are not dictated by the voting public, but by powerful corporate interests. And Grown called for more women economists analyzing the crisis from a gender equality lens and to connect with women’s grassroots efforts.
Perhaps then we can begin to construct another global economy that isn’t built on exploiting women who hold up half the sky.
Christine Ahn is the Communication Research Analyst at the Global Fund for Women.