GOVERNMENTS MUST FOCUS ON WOMEN AS ECONOMIC AGENTS DURING GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS IF THEIR DISPROPORTIONATE SUFFERING IS TO BE AVERTED, WOMEN’S COMMISSION HEARS
GOVERNMENTS MUST FOCUS ON WOMEN AS ECONOMIC AGENTS DURING GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS IF THEIR DISPROPORTIONATE SUFFERING IS TO BE AVERTED, WOMEN’S COMMISSION HEARS
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on the Status of Women
7th & 8th Meetings (AM & PM)
GOVERNMENTS MUST FOCUS ON WOMEN AS ECONOMIC AGENTS DURING GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS
IF THEIR DISPROPORTIONATE SUFFERING IS TO BE AVERTED, WOMEN’S COMMISSION HEARS
Investing in Women’s Earning Power in Times of Crisis, Not Allowing
Them to Carry Uneven Share of Burden Is ‘Smart Economics’, Says World Bank
Government policy responses to the global financial meltdown must focus on the role of women as economic agents in order to address the all-too-familiar trend of women and girls suffering disproportionately during times of economic crisis, speakers told the Commission on the Status of Women this afternoon as it held an expert panel discussion on the gender perspectives of the crisis.
Mayra Buvinic, Senior Spokesperson on Gender Equality and Development of the World Bank, said ignoring the crisis’ gender-specific impacts ‑‑ such as the expected drop in women’s income and girls’ school enrolment and the rise in mortality rates among infant girls ‑‑ would increase poverty and imperil future development. Evidence showed that the loss of women’s income more adversely affected children and caused generations of families to remain in the poverty trap than the loss of men’s earnings. As banking institutions cut microfinance lending, millions of women-run enterprises, the main beneficiaries of microcredit, would lose their livelihoods, and as the demand for exports dropped, women in export-oriented industries around the world would lose their jobs.
Allowing women to disproportionately shoulder the economic burden did not bode well for the global economy, she said, stressing that it was simply smart economics to invest in women’s earning power and women’s pay checks in times of crisis. The World Bank’s “gender equality as smart economics” action plan would aim to do just that, working to ensure jobs and microfinance loans for women. Additionally, the World Bank had launched a $900 million food crisis response fund, and the International Finance Corporation and the German Government had put together a $500 million facility for microfinancing institutions. The role of women in pulling countries out of economic peril was vital, she said, noting that countries worldwide had coped with previous crises by putting more women into the workplace. That was true, for example, during the Great Depression in the United States and the Latin American crisis of the 1990s.
In a similar vein, Elizabeth Eilor, an independent gender equality and macroeconomic policy consultant and Vice-President of Least Developed Countries Watch (LDC Watch), an international civil society network, said the drop in official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment in Africa due to the crisis would result in massive job losses for women, particularly in the informal economy, and cuts in health care and education services, both large beneficiaries of external funding. As commodity and food prices rose, women would find it increasingly difficult to put food on the table. Their situation would be made more difficult, owing to the interdependence of African policies that were not responsive to the care economy. Moreover, without the steady injection of capital into much-needed social services, countries across Africa would not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
A more thorough gender analysis to see how development policies could better respond to the needs of women and men was needed, she said, stressing that “women and girls in poverty are not asking for new rhetoric or promises. They want action that will bring them economic empowerment, respect for their rights and the role in development.” Countries must work to enhance women’s productive capacities, including in such areas as renewable energy, to create more wealth, support income-generating activities and reduce workloads. Women had benefited from management credit programmes in Malawi and economic recovery credit schemes in Rwanda. Ending global poverty began with women, and all stakeholders had a role to play in women’s empowerment, she said, noting that “when you teach a woman to fish, everyone eats”.
During the morning, the Commission continued its general debate. As in the panellists’ exchanges this afternoon, there was widespread agreement among delegations on the need for Government intervention to ensure women’s well-being during the economic crisis. Elena Guergis, Minister of State of Canada, for example, said her Government was forming alliances with the private and non-profit sectors to ensure that women contributed to economic growth and benefited from equal opportunity measures in the labour market. The aim was to ensure economic security and increase women in leadership roles. Canadian women were increasingly participating in the paid workforce, but they still faced imbalance in unpaid work. Federal programmes aimed to rectify that in several ways, among them by supporting unpaid caregivers through a universal childcare plan and tax credits.
Also participating in that discussion were senior ministers of Kiribati, Botswana, Greece, and the Philippines, as well as the Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs of Jamaica.
The representative of Syria also spoke.
The President of the Coordinating Committee on Women Parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union also delivered a statement.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Israel and Iran.
The afternoon panel was moderated by Commission Vice-Chair Juan Peralta (Paraguay), and featured presentations by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor at the Graduate Programme in International Affairs at The New School, New York; Shamika Sirimanne, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); and Stephanie Seguino, Professor of Economics at the University of Vermont.
During the afternoon panel, statements were made by the representatives of Belgium, Indonesia, Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Iran, Israel, Italy, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, United Kingdom, Mexico, Zambia, Lesotho, United States, Tonga, Togo, Argentina, Côte d’Ivoire, Philippines, Ecuador, Pakistan, Samoa and Colombia.
Also speaking in the afternoon were representatives of the Ecumenical Women, and Development Alternatives with Women in a New Era (DAWN).
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 6 March, to continue its fifty-third session.
The Commission on the Status of Women met today to continue its general discussion on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”. It would also hold an expert panel discussion on emerging issues, trends and new approaches to issues affecting the situation of women or equality between women and men.
PIA CAYETANO, President of the Coordinating Committee on Women Parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said IPU and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women held a parliamentary meeting yesterday to exchange experiences, in which more than 100 parliamentarians participated from 45 countries. When considering the draft agreed conclusions, they noted that parliaments had a contribution to make to most, if not all, of the recommendations put forward. She encouraged the Commission to acknowledge parliamentarians’ role in the text, saying it would give parliamentarians an incentive to follow up the conclusions within their respective parliaments. Several priority areas emerged during the debate.
She said participants had included the need to recognize and make more visible unpaid work, whether it was performed by women or men, through time-use surveys and national budgetary processes that took into account its contribution, and to provide support to those who performed it. There was also a need to reduce the burden of unpaid work and promote the equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women in caregiving by bringing national policies and laws in line with international commitments, particularly those aimed at protecting and supporting women workers, as well as to change mindsets and address gender stereotypes through education and promotion of gender equality in school curricula and through grass-roots programmes. Parliamentarians must lead by example and start implementing family-friendly measures, and thus become models of good institutional performance.
HELENA GUERGIS, Minister of State of Canada, said financial and economic crises could have disproportionate effects on women. With that in mind, Canada was forming alliances with the private and non-profit sectors to ensure that women contributed to economic growth and benefited from Government measures, such as equal access to employment. Efforts to create conditions in which women could succeed centred on three pillars: economic security; ending violence against women; and increasing women in leadership. Women’s increased participation in the paid workforce was among the most significant trends in Canada in recent decades. However, Canada continued to face challenges related to the imbalance in unpaid work, and supported unpaid caregivers through various mechanisms, including a universal childcare plan and tax credits.
To address caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS, she said the Government had launched a federal initiative that supported collaboration with provincial and territorial Governments, civil society and health-care professionals. On achieving equal sharing of responsibilities, she noted that women accounted for almost 30 per cent of cabinet ministers, the highest ever in Canada’s history. The Government had initiated strategic partnerships to advance women’s economic security and prosperity. On the international stage, Canada recognized gender equality and women’s empowerment as a development goal in its own right. The country was committed to women’s human rights and was responding to recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
AMBEROTI NIKORA, Minister for Internal and Social Affairs of Kiribati, said women were the main caregivers in Kiribati. Many women were taking up caregiving and nursing jobs overseas. That was positive for the economy as it increased remittances to Kiribati, but it meant that the remaining women who were at home were expected to carry out caregiving duties, fishing and agricultural work. It also meant that children at home were left in the care of their grandmothers and others family members. Men played an important role in caregiving, but not to the extent that women did. Kiribati had three women members of Parliament. Its Vice-President was a woman. Six women held Permanent Secretary posts in the ministries of health, education, finance, foreign affairs, and lands and the environment.
He said that Kiribati still had far to go to support equal decision-making at all levels. Through funding and technical assistance from Australia and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Kiribati recently conducted a survey on gender-based violence against women and children. The findings of the survey would be finalized and would inform Government policy. Accurate and dependable statistics were important to eliminating violence against women and children. In December 2008, Kiribati recruited an adviser of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women with funding from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). That was a strongly supported, nationally driven initiative.
FAITH WEBSTER, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs of Jamaica, aligning herself with the statements made on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Rio Group, said Jamaica was committed to strengthening measures at international, regional and domestic levels aimed at empowering women. To meet its obligations, it had taken several steps towards ensuring an equal sharing of responsibilities among men and women. Despite those, however, women and girls continued to bear the major responsibilities for caregiving. In many cases, unequal sharing persisted because of cultural and social norms, traditional beliefs and stereotypes.
She said the HIV/AIDS pandemic compounded care duties. Girls and young women were expected to handle educational, professional and domestic duties, which resulted in their early dropout from education. Roles calling for men and boys to be “tough, aggressive and sexually dominant” were often associated with an increased risk in contracting the disease. Jamaica had collaborated with various agencies on HIV/AIDS. Her Bureau had been involved in extensive sensitization activities, and worked with organizations on gender-related issues. The 2004 Property Act facilitated equitable distribution of property upon the breakdown of marriage, and recognized the unpaid work of men and women in the home. Her Bureau had also partnered with social agencies, including “Fathers Incorporated”, to strengthen men’s roles in caregiving, and with the “Batterers” programme to address the emotional needs of men.
SEGAKWENG TSIANE, Permanent Secretary of Labour and Home Affairs of Botswana, listed the policy on women in development, the national gender programme framework and an advocacy and social mobilization strategy of the national gender framework among her country’s gender-responsive instruments. Since its accession to the Women’s Convention in 1996, the Government had intensified the process of amending laws that negatively impacted women, adopting amendments to numerous acts, including the Penal Code, the Public Service Act and the law on domestic violence. The country had developed operational guidelines for community home care for people living with HIV and AIDS, and in 2005, guidelines and tools had been developed for family care in home-based and orphan care. She also mentioned a recent study of the community home-based care programme for terminally ill HIV/AIDS patients and the directory for home care providers. All those efforts were aimed at creating a better understanding for the country’s systems and at charting the way forward.
She said that women and girls bore the extra burden of care in HIV/AIDS, often as voluntary caregivers. For instance, of the 292 known home-based care groups with information on their composition, 98 had an all-female membership, against just four groups with 100 per cent male membership. The Government had initiated reviews of national legislation, aimed at enhancing responsibility sharing between men and women. One such effort was the abolition of the Marital Power Act. That made spouses equal partners in marriage. The Government also supported the creation of support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS, and it had created an institutional structure to facilitate their work. However, ensuring that the burdens of care were shared proportionately among women, men, boys and girls remained a challenge. Her Government would continue to develop strategies and programmes to facilitate the participation of men and boys in those tasks.
WARIF HALABI ( Syria) said her country had engaged in comprehensive reform to make Syrian society more just and equitable. It had ratified all the international conventions related to women’s issues, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and it had endorsed the Beijing Platform for Action. The Government had taken steps to improve the quality of life for women and to promote better social conditions and equal opportunities for them and a balanced family life, which required the genuine participation of both spouses. Civil society organizations were encouraged to support parents and to create a facilitating environment to help them overcome impediments to that. The Syrian Government had sought to amend numerous laws and policies to prevent and eliminate violence against women in accordance with the women’s anti-discrimination Convention.
She said Syria was also working to eliminate gender stereotypes. In that regard, the Minister of Education had reviewed school curricula and family education programmes. Women and girls in the Syrian Golan, who were subjected to Israeli occupation, were receiving support through various Government programmes. The Women’s Committee formed in the Golan was coordinating efforts with the Women’s Union. A new law gave economic and social support to employees and teachers in the Golan who had lost their jobs due to Israel’s occupation. Women’s advancement and gender equality was an ongoing participatory process which required more concerted efforts on all levels and the support of United Nations specialized agencies. Women under occupation often found themselves in the position of being the only breadwinner of a family or the only caregiver of a wounded combatant relative. As such, they needed particular attention.
EUGENIA TSOUMANI, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Ministry of Interior of Greece, associating herself with the European Union, said the achievement of gender equality was integral to human rights, economic development and social cohesion. Greece’s national action plan was an integrated and cohesive intervention through gender mainstreaming, following on European commitments. A modern institutional framework and policies covered critical areas of the Beijing Action Platform, such as eliminating stereotypes through education. Greece gave priority to the social integration of vulnerable groups; the reconciliation of the family and work life also was of great importance. Parental and maternal leaves were granted with special care for singe parents. Further, women’s participation in decision-making at all levels had been enhanced through the establishment of quotas in elections, and in public, scientific and local committees.
Turning to HIV/AIDS, she said the unequal sharing of responsibilities, including in caregiving, was among the main causes of discrimination. The phenomenon, connected to gender stereotypes, needed evaluation of women’s domestic and caregiving work. Men’s role and involvement should be enhanced. Awareness-raising campaigns promoted women’s and girls’ self-protection and encouraged men and boys to assume their responsibilities. To face challenges, investment in affordable and high-quality public services was of great importance. Gender budgeting was a major challenge for European policies, and close cooperation with social partners and non-governmental organizations was also strongly needed.
ALICIA BALA, Undersecretary for Policy and Programmes of the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines, said the equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women was a goal to which the Philippines aspired and a strategy implemented by the Government. That was evident in policies that aimed to harmonize work and family life, such as paternity leave benefits and childcare services in the home, workplace and the community. The Government was setting an example by allowing public employees to take special leave to attend to family matters and emergencies. The “Empowerment and Reaffirmation of Paternal Abilities” programme organized fathers into a network of advocates and models who debunked stereotypes and other attitudinal barriers that prevented men from sharing home management and child-rearing responsibilities with women. The Philippines had instituted policies and programmes to enhance male responsibility as both a deterrent and a solution to violence against women. Since the passage of the 2004 law to end violence against women and children, it had started a process to build the capacity of “duty bearers”.
She said that the “Men Opposed to Violence against Women Everywhere” movement, organized by the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, advocated for a supportive home where both women and men nurtured their families. The Philippines would soon have a law that provided for gender balance in decision-making posts and a legal definition of gender discrimination in political, civil, economic and social and cultural fields in accordance with the Women’s Convention. The Philippines had a low prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS partly due to the early passage of a law to prevent and control the spread of the infection, particularly among high-risk groups. The “Gender-Responsive Economic Action for the Transformation of Women Project” would enable women to have better access to credit, technology, training, information, and market and social protection in the midst of the financial crisis.
Right of Reply
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Israel said yesterday’s session had been marred by Iran’s statement, which was inaccurate, due to the “flippant” use of the word “genocide”. While such misuse would have been appalling in any statement, it was “mystifying” coming from a country that was a Holocaust denier. The statement was surprising, as Iran had a poor record as a defender of women’s rights. A country that stoned women should not claim to be defending women’s rights. Also, Iran was an internationally recognized sponsor of terrorism and used Palestinians as pawns. She hoped the session would remain focused on the issues before it. She hoped to return to a constructive atmosphere, which was a hallmark of the Commission’s work.
The representative of Iran, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said there could be no discrimination against women around the world. All women were entitled to have their rights and freedoms, including Palestinian women, who lived under occupation. One delegation had “lying words” against her country. Women had equal rights with men in her country. Yesterday, her delegation had wished to emphasize the rights of all women. Those in the Middle East could not be separated from those in other parts of the world.
Interactive Expert Panel on “Gender perspectives of the financial crisis”
SAKIKO FUKUDA-PARR, Professor at the Graduate Programme in International Affairs at The New School, New York, said there was little disagreement that development and poverty reduction would be profoundly compromised by the financial crisis, which had evolved into a global economic recession. The World Bank President had called on rich countries to set aside 0.7 per cent of their stimulus packages, or $15 billion, for a “vulnerability fund”. But the critical issue was not how much global financing would be available for developing countries, but what kind of programmes it might finance. Developing countries had little control over the contagion effects of turmoil originating elsewhere. As economist Joseph Stiglitz had said, this recession “bears a made-in-America label”.
She said the human consequences were often hidden from the economic analyses that drove policy choices. As shown by the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s and the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s, economic crises carried complex repercussions. Citing theorist Amartya Sen, she said there was much economic evidence indicating that even if people rose together, when they fell, they fell divided. While unemployment specifically affected women, there was also a “care economy” that was particularly affected by retrenchments in social expenditures. As women did most care work, when health spending decreased, women had to spend more time in the home looking after the sick.
Turning to policy responses to protect the poor, she urged pursuing those that focused on employment, sustainability and gender. Moreover, it was important to maintain development aid budgets; provide finance for stimulus packages for developing countries; maintain commitments to global priorities, such as the food crisis; and support expansionary macroeconomic policies.
Most importantly, she said neither human security nor economic stability could be assured by national policies alone; they must be supported by international efforts. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically its article 28, stated that everyone was entitled to a social international order in which rights and freedoms could be fully realized. That cherished idea had not developed beyond a statement of principle. It was time to take more seriously human rights obligations.
Human rights defined the essential conditions of dignity and freedom to which everyone was entitled, she said, adding that those rights carried obligations, including to adequate subsistence, as outlined in article 25. The current system shifted the burden of global financial risks to poor countries and households. Paraphrasing philosopher Thomas Pogge, she said the international community had a duty to not only assist, but reform, the global social arrangements that contributed to the non-fulfilment of basic subsistence rights.
ELIZABETH EILOR, an independent gender equality and macroeconomic policy consultant and Vice-President of Least Developed Countries Watch (LDC Watch), an international civil society network, said the crisis would affect women in different forms at different levels in different countries. Exacerbated by climate change, the crisis compounded the negative impact on women. Due to the increased loss of formal jobs and escalating food and energy prices, women in Africa had faced even greater challenges. Their situation was made more difficult, owing to the interdependence of African policies that were not responsive to the care economy. To solve the problem, it was necessary to acknowledge failures. The Asian crisis should have taught the world about the need to cushion the situation before it worsened. No one knew what the impact of the financial crisis would be, but it was known that it was quickly getting worse.
She said that many jobs, including informal jobs, had been lost. Most African women worked in the informal sector, and not in management jobs. Their jobs were usually the first to go. Women were facing challenges because many of the jobs created by foreign direct investment in Africa had been lost and because official development assistance (ODA) to Africa had been reduced. More than 30 per cent of Uganda’s budget was funded by donors. The Group of Seven (G-7) finance ministers had committed to Africa’s development. Now they were looking after their own people. In mobilizing resources, there was political accountability and that influenced decision-making. It was not surprising that ODA was falling or that that adversely affected the social sector where most of the money was spent. The price of oil, transport and commodities was rising. When commodities got more expensive, women found it difficult to put bread on the table. In the past, during structural adjustment periods, women took on more responsibility. African women were just trying to get out of poverty when the crisis hit. Due to economic injustices, women suffered more during crises.
The education and health sectors were most affected by the drop in foreign direct investment and ODA in Africa, she said. Without education and health services, women would suffer and countries would not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The financial crisis continued to challenge the banking sector. Banks, fearing the consequences of failed loans, were going back to financing only those sectors that seemed to be profitable, making it more difficult for women who benefited from microfinance for small business development to access capital. Remittances from abroad, which contributed significantly to gross domestic product (GDP), were also drying up.
Turning to possible strategies to address the economic crisis, she said it was necessary to have a more thorough gender analysis to see how development policies could better respond to the needs of women and men. Social and economic empowerment must continue, and the world must learn from previous crises in Latin America and Asia. Social economic capital was critical to cushion the impact of financial crises and to ensure the human resources needed to generate and create wealth. Maternal mortality must not stay the same or worsen when funds shrank. It was essential to enhance the productive capacities of women to create more wealth and support income-generating activities. Women should also be able to work in the renewable energy sector to help reduce their workload. She pointed to Malawi where women had benefited from management credit and to Rwanda, where they benefited from economic recovery credit. All stakeholders had a role to play to empower women. Ending global poverty began with women. “When you teach a woman to fish, everyone eats,” she said. “Women and girls in poverty are not asking for new rhetoric or promises. They want action that will bring them economic empowerment, respect for their rights and the role in development.”
SHAMIKA SIRIMANNE, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), touched on differences between the current global financial crisis and the 1997 Asian crisis, saying that in 1997, Asia was the epicentre. Economies experienced sharp contractions, which were exacerbated by tight monetary and fiscal policies that formed part of the rescue strategy. Today, the United States was the crisis epicentre, and the economic fallout in other nations was expected to be protracted, rather than swift. That gave countries time to create more effective policies. The poor were the hardest-hit by any economic downturn, and women would bear the biggest brunt. In the Asia-Pacific region, women still constituted most of the temporary, casual and contract labourers.
On policy responses, she said Asian developing countries were pursuing supportive monetary and fiscal policies. Monetary policies were geared towards keeping the financial sector liquid. Large stimulus packages had been introduced across the region and carried measures to minimize unemployment and protect small enterprises and low-income households.
As for what needed to be done, she said it was important to “engender” fiscal stimulus packages. They commonly featured large public works projects, whose jobs were mostly in construction, 80 to 90 per cent of which were held by men. Social services, like health and education, would open equal opportunities, and should be part-and-parcel of the packages. Stimulus packages must protect social spending, and more emphasis should be placed on gender budgeting. On that point, it was important to ensure that funding was not diverted, and to insist on strong public expenditure monitoring systems so that funds reached their intended groups. Uganda had a successful tracking programme. Increased spending on agriculture should also be a feature of stimulus packages, as “a silent crisis is unfolding in agriculture”. Monetary authorities should ensure that banks provided uninterrupted flows of microfinance, and aid quality must be improved. In the long term, the crisis must be turned into an opportunity for Governments to practice “smart economics”. Addressing gender discrimination would be a “growth driver”.
MAYRA BUVINIC, Senior Spokesperson on Gender Equality and Development of the World Bank, said the crises would have gender-specific impacts, which, if ignored would increase poverty and imperil future development. Effective policy responses should focus on the role of women as economic agents. The crisis would lower women’s incomes, cause a drop in the aggregate demand for exports and lead to significant losses for women’s employment in export industries. The tightened credit market would cause a fall in lending resources for microfinancing institutions, which largely benefited women. The slowdown in remittances would also affect women’s income. All of that would occur in addition to rising food prices. Of the 133 million microcredit borrowers in 2006, 93 million were poor, and of that 93 million, a total of 85 per cent were women. The overwhelming majority of garment workers in Bangladesh, for example, were women, and many of them would lose their jobs.
In order to cope with previous crises, households had sent women to work, she noted. During the Latin America crisis of the 1990s, women were sent into the workforce in higher numbers than men. The same thing had occurred during the East Asian crisis and the Great Depression in the United States. Another coping response was that poor households pulled boys and girls out of school. Because of the present crisis, infant mortality rates would go up, she said, adding that the World Bank estimated that between 200,000 and 400,000 additional deaths annually would occur if the crisis continued. Most of the dead infants would be girls. Solid evidence from 59 developing countries showed that, when countries’ economies were growing, the well-being of girls and boys improved. But during crises, infant deaths were predominantly among girls.
The policy response needed was to increase women’s earnings, she said, stressing that the loss of their earnings had negative long-term effects on the well-being of children and households and caused poverty to be passed down from one generation to the next. Evidence showed that the loss of women’s income had a larger effect on children than did the loss of men’s income. It was smart economics to invest in women’s income in times of crisis. The World Bank assessed 33 to 52 countries to be most vulnerable, due to higher infant mortality rates and lower levels of schooling. Particular efforts were needed to maximize women’s income there. The World Bank’s “gender equality as smart economics” action plan would devote all resources to ensure that the World Bank’s response to the crisis maximized women’s income and ensured that jobs and microfinance went to women. Additionally, she noted that the World Bank’s food crisis response fund was $900 million. The International Finance Corporation and the German Government had put together a $500 million facility for microfinancing institutions.
STEPHANIE SEGUINO, Professor of Economics at the University of Vermont, said the causes of the economic crisis began in the mid-1970s and were related to inequalities in and among countries. The last 20 years had seen the increased ability of corporations to move overseas in search of lower-cost production sites. As a consequence, wages in the United States and Europe stagnated or declined, which created a problem: there was insufficient demand on the part of workers to buy back what was produced. As wages declined, households sent more family members into the workforce, including women, and borrowed funds, which, in turn, created unsustainable credit expansion.
In terms of solutions, she said the first priority was to create greater income and an economic system in which growth was compatible with equality, and not dependent on it. Economies should be created that produced sufficient jobs. In addition, gender equality was needed ‑‑ because it was the right thing to do and because it was a precondition for economic growth. And green jobs should be created. To get there, she suggested developing “transformational” stimulus packages that focused on the short and long term.
Among the most fundamental aspects of promoting long-run economic growth was ensuring that packages stimulated opportunities for women, she said. That involved social infrastructure. A fundamental problem was gender job segregation, and a norm that suggested that men had more right to a job when jobs were scarce. It was crucial in those circumstances to focus “assiduously” on job creation. Second, Governments must seek ways to shift incentives that supported speculative investment to those that supported long-term, patient investment. To do that, they must reformulate the role of central banks. Inflation targeting as the sole focus of central banks was flawed because it raised real rates of interest and slowed job creation and economic growth. It also more negatively impacted women than men in developing countries.
In closing, she pointed out that, for almost 30 years, countries had made the mistake of believing that unregulated markets could find investments that were both the most profitable and the most socially beneficial. That was not true. Decision makers should recognize that all countries must be able to use policies on trade, investments and financial flows. “We are at a transformational moment in history”; there was a chance now to argue for gender-centred and more equitable growth structures.
During the ensuing discussion, several representatives from developing and developed countries alike posed questions on how to monitor stimulus package funding, achieve the Millennium Development Goals for women and create jobs. One question focused on the potential for women to be trafficked in the worsening global economic climate.
A civil society representative noted that social safety nets had been dismantled, as prescribed by Bretton Woods institutions in the 1990s in their structural adjustment programmes, and now many women had little access to basic social services that could have helped them weather the adverse impacts of the crisis. Genuine development fostered equitable and caring relationships; equality between women and men was a condition for social justice.
Responding first, Ms. FUKUDA-PARR said it was important to reiterate the need to keep monitoring macroeconomic policies to ensure that they were not reversing prospects for growth, employment creation, or possibilities for more equitable development, or abandoning sustainability. She also urged looking at global institutions. Some of the unfair trade policies that posed obstacles to developing country exports in particular, needed attention.
Ms. EILOR said that, to make an impact, there was a need to bring the care economy ‑‑ the social responsibilities of women ‑‑ to the table. “There is no way we can continue to ignore the statistics on how much time women spend in the social sector,” she said. Monitoring, without having policy space, or interventions that created positive impacts, led nowhere. The financial crisis, as in the past, created more domestic violence, which undermined the fact that gender equality needed to be created in the household. As for recommendations, she suggested moving beyond women’s empowerment pilot projects that did not have a wider impact.
Ms. SIRIMANNE said commercial banks, particularly in Asia, had become cautious lenders, with microfinance a casualty. Stimulus packages took specific measures not to touch microcredit. For banks, there could be conditionality; State-owned banks should not give up microcredit, which protected the informal sector. There should also be emphasis on increased funding for agriculture. Monitoring was also vital. Concerning maternal mortality, some interventions were very low-cost. In South Asia, for example, assisting mothers with nutrition and removing restrictions on them to see male doctors “would go a long way”.
Ms. BUVINIC said that, at the current rate, the Millennium Development Goals would not be met, particularly those for infant and maternal mortality, and for gender equality. On creating and examining indicators, she said significant data was missing. Many countries were not collecting basic data, and that was particularly the case for maternal mortality rates, which were very unreliable.
Ms. SEGUINO, responding to a question about whether women would become more vulnerable to human trafficking in the current economic climate, said that the issue had to do with a lack of choices. The most direct means to choice was through stimulus packages that were well defined and accurately targeted. Poor countries could not finance stimulus packages and, as such, rich countries had to step up to the plate. Regarding the concern about meeting the Millennium Development Goals, she was optimistic about the future. Looking at cost estimates for gender equality, she said some estimates put the cost of gender equality at $47 billion per year for five years. One way to find that funding could be through a “currency transactions tax”. Foreign currency exchanges ran $3 trillion per day through their operations, and a tax of one tenth of 1 per cent on those transactions could generate more than enough to finance gender equality. It would be paid primarily by the wealthy, which created the current crisis. It was also a tax that could be avoided by not engaging in financially speculative behaviour.
In the second round of questions and comments, delegates asked about strategies to ensure that macroeconomic and institutional reforms included women’s empowerment; turning the global crisis into an opportunity for women; ways for the World Bank to revitalize the service industry by insuring the uninsured; and how to help women access jobs when there were no jobs to access.
The representative of the United States said her Government understood the need to clean up banks. Overall success would require an “unprecedented” level of cooperation, and the United States would work closely with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and with leading economies to create broader reforms. She discussed research showing that diverse groups of men and women outperformed homogenous groups; and those with a “critical mass” of women’s perspectives produced better outcomes than those including just one woman.
In that vein, she said the 2 April meeting of the “G-20” (Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors) would not be significantly diverse, and she asked about the likelihood of producing genuinely diverse outcomes from it. Also, could there be a global effort that focused on helping women entrepreneurs move from micro- to macro-entrepreneurism?
The representative of Argentina, noting that much domestic work was done by migrant women, asked what would happen to their situation when there was a drop in demand for domestic work.
An African delegate asked how to ensure that budgets dedicated to reducing inequalities were not reduced further by the crisis.
Responding, Ms. SEGUINO said creating jobs for women when there were none was the job of macroeconomists. The way to stimulate jobs was through monetary policy, or for Governments to put money in the hands of people who bought goods and services. Those who were newly employed further stimulated growth.
As for how to “get women’s voices heard”, she said diversity impacted decision-making ‑‑ and it did not require resources. Women must demand a seat at the table. The United Nations had an important role to play and, in that context, she urged it to address the humanitarian aspects of the crisis, as well as the causes of it.
Ms. BUVINIC, responding to the query about the upcoming G-20 meeting, said it was almost too late to intervene. She agreed the Group would be largely homogenous. However, the host country had quite a bit of leeway to make recommendations at the last minute, and perhaps that was an option. To the query about entrepreneurs, she said diverse workforces were more productive.
On the World Bank, she said it was joining other regional development banks to increase pledges and put together a $6 billion vulnerability fund, which would include safety nets and funding for microfinance institutions. “Not all women are the same,” she said, adding that some would be affected more than others from the crisis. Countries must focus on those who were “doubly disadvantaged”: those who were poor and part of minority ethnic groups.
Ms. SIRIMANNE, focusing on trade, said that in Asia, most countries had exported their way out of the 1997 crisis. That would not happen this time around, and the concern about protection was dangerous. Protectionism would make it even more difficult for small, open economies, such as those in Asia, to emerge.
Ms. EILOR said that integrating gender into the macroeconomic policy framework required Governments to undertake gender audits. Also, she pointed out that microfinance was “good”, in terms of “smoothing out consumption”, rather than creating growth. “We must look at other ways that enabled resources for economic growth,” she said.
Ms. FUKUDA-PARR disagreed that macroeconomic policies were the fundamental response to job creation. Countries must not rely totally on them. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were various successful development experiences, some of which emphasized more intensive productivity in agriculture ‑‑ an economic sector that was growth- and job-oriented. Also, while it was important to have gender diversity, there also was a need for “intellectual diversity” ‑‑ which reflected people with different geographical locations and intellectual traditions.
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