Art by Yousef Amairi

Art by Yousef Amairi
the struggle continues

March 03, 2010

GENDER GAP REMAINS IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD, March 1-15, 2010 issue of People's Voice

(The following article is from the March 1-15, 2010 issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to: People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 133 Herkimer St., Unit 502, Hamilton, ON, L8P 2H3.)

Excerpts from a 2009 International Labour Organization report, titled "Gender Equality at the Heart of Decent Work"

Changes in the roles of women and men, their relations with each other, and the nature of the households, markets and societies in which they live, continue to accelerate in a globalized world. Gender equality cannot be achieved when biases remain embedded in economic and social institutions and in development processes. It often remains unaddressed or is addressed in an uneven manner. Shifting boundaries and values create tensions that are sometimes magnified by rapid globalization. Men and women may experience the day-to-day manifestations of these strains in their households, in their search for jobs and participation in the labour market, or in accessing credit, technology and assets as they continue to perform their socially ascribed roles. While some may benefit from new opportunities, many may continue with traditional gender roles and suffer from increased burdens and stress.

In 2008, the World Bank published new poverty estimates showing that close to 1.4 billion people in less developed regions of the world - about 26 per cent of the world's population - lived on less than US$1.25 per day in 2005. This represents an increase of some 500 million people over previous estimates of 931 million in poverty. These estimates were not supplied with a gender dimension. To fill this gap, the ILO used the World Bank poverty estimates and data on the estimated earned income of women and men, published by the UNDP in its 2007-08 Human Development Report, to calculate the shares of overall poverty according to sex.

The data show that about 829 million people living below the poverty line were female (girls and young, adult and older women), compared with about 522 million in the same situation who were male. These findings confirm that poverty is increasingly feminized.

Poverty not only has a strong female dimension but is also embedded within rural communities. In almost all parts of the world, rural poverty rates are higher than urban ones and the depth of poverty is greater; some 75 per cent of the world's poor live in rural areas in developing countries.

ILO analysis also shows regional differences. In Africa, of an estimated total population of about 909 million, some 373 million people were living below the poverty line in 2005; over 214 million of them were female and 158 million were male. Some 41 per cent of Africans lived below the poverty line, but the female population is poorer than the male population. Over 57 per cent of all persons living in poverty were women.

In the Americas, out of a total population of about 884 million, nearly 46 million persons were living below the poverty line in 2005; of these, ILO estimates suggest that over 27 million were women and girls and around 19 million were men and boys. The poverty rate is lower in the Americas than in Africa: about one in 20 people live below the poverty line. Yet in the Americas the female population is relatively poorer than in Africa, as the female population comprises nearly 59 per cent of all people living below the poverty line.

In absolute numbers, Asia has the largest population living below the poverty line: out of a total population of 3.7 billion, about 913 million people live in poverty. Yet the overall rate - about 25 per cent - is far lower than in Africa, even if it is five times the poverty rate of the Americas. And female poverty is far greater than in the Americas or Africa, as the female share of poverty represents 63 per cent of all persons in Asia living below the poverty line.

Although it displays large intra-regional differences, Europe has a lower poverty rate: 20 million people live below the poverty line in European countries, which yields an overall rate of just over 2 per cent. Yet the female proportion of the population living below the poverty line (59 per cent) is as great as in the Americas.

Areas with the highest concentration of indigenous and tribal peoples are also those with the highest incidence of poverty or extreme poverty. A strong correlation between being indigenous and being poor or extremely poor indicates that indigenous female workers (and their children) may have fared worse than their male and non-indigenous counterparts in most socio-economic aspects.

Turmoil in the financial markets of the industrialized countries, which originated in the United States in late 2008 and spread worldwide, is creating great uncertainty. The latest ILO data project job losses of up to 50 million men and women across the globe to the end of 2009.

A distinction should be drawn between the disadvantaged position of women in global labour markets, and the immediate impact of the current economic crisis. In developed economies, there are signals that the crisis may be at least as detrimental for men as for women, and possibly more so initially, as witnessed by the stronger increase of the unemployment rate in developed economies for men compared to women in 2008 (1.1 percentage points for men versus 0.8 points for women). This has led to a narrowing of the gender gap in the unemployment rate in 2008, but only because the situation of men in the labour market worsened, not because of any equality gains. In addition, sectoral employment patterns of men and women show initial job losses in the male-dominated construction and automotive industries.

At the other end of the spectrum, women make up two-thirds or more of the workforce in the education and health services sectors that have been less affected by the economic crisis in the short run. Forecasts point to other female-dominated areas of the economy, such as tourism and clerical support staff, as being next in line for layoffs, with redundancies in these sectors already starting in many countries.

The crisis has drawn attention to the need for a dramatic shift towards an improved globalization that includes sustainable and high-quality jobs, broader social protections and social dialogue.... Policies need strong gender components on mitigating, and preventing in the future, disparate effects on women and men.

The CEDAW Committee underscores the importance of recognizing the unique contribution that women can make in the timely resolution of the global financial and economic crisis and calls for the inclusion of women in the dialogue and decision-making processes.

ILO projections show the impact on and the likely rise in working poverty, implying that the working poor will get even poorer. In designing policy responses, care should be taken to protect the working poor, who are, as noted above, mostly women...

Policy responses could include the following: (i) wider coverage of unemployment benefits and insurance schemes, reskilling

redundant workers and protecting pensions from devastating declines in financial markets; (ii) public investment in infrastructure and housing, community infrastructure and green jobs, including through emergency public works; (iii) support to small and medium-sized enterprises and microcredit; and (iv) social dialogue at enterprise, sectoral and national levels, including consultations with national women's organizations.

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