Date: Sun, 6 Dec 1998 20:17:36 -0600 (CST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: ASIA: Recession 'Redomesticating' Women, Studies Say
/** ips.english: 512.0 **/
** Topic: DEVELOPMENT-ASIA: Recession 'Redomesticating' Women, Studies Say **
** Written 3:03 PM Dec 3, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Recession 'Redomesticating' Women, Studies Say
By Boonthan Sakanond, IPS
30 November 1998
BANGKOK, Nov 30 (IPS) - As the Asian recession rolls on, women are
being forced to make the maximum sacrifices whether in the family,
the workplace or in school, new studies say.
Asia's recession, now almost year and a half old, is also
pushing more and more women to migrate overseas in search of work
and take up employment in the commercial sex industry.
Experts warn that without appropriate policies in place,
decades of work done to improve the status of Asian women could be
rolled back in the space of a few years.
"There is a distinct need for designing macroeconomic policies
in Asia that are sensitive to the needs of women and which do not
put the main burden of adjustment on this already disadvantaged
group," says a paper by Jayati Ghosh of the Centre of Economic
Studies and Planning at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New
Her paper on women and economic liberalisation in the Asia-
Pacific region was part of a discussion at a recent forum here on
the impact of globalisation on women, organised by the United
Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (ESCAP).
While official figures on rising unemployment in Asia do not
look specifically at the impact on women, there is growing
evidence that in the industrial sector women in general, and older
women in particular, are the first to bear the brunt of job cuts.
In Thailand, for example, where more than 300,000 people have
lost jobs in the past year, trade union activists claim that a
majority of retrenched employees are women.
"Women are considered easier to dismiss by many employers and
so they are more vulnerable in times of crisis like the current
one," says Voravidh Charoenlert, a labour economist and trade
union adviser in Bangkok.
As Ghosh's paper points out, the possibility of easy dismissal
was always one of the main reasons why women found employment in
large numbers during the boom years of the eighties and early
She points to the widespread perception that female employees
are more tractable and subservient to managerial authority, less
prone to organise into unions, more willing to accept lower wages,
less likely to expect upward job mobility and easier to dismiss
using life-cycle criteria like marriage and childbirth.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO),
figures in Indonesia between 1980 and 1996 show the percentage of
women in the labour force jumped from 27.7 to 37.2 percent.
In Thailand it went up from 49.5 percent to 55.2 percent during
the same period.
In China, another Asian country which has seen spurt in export-
oriented industries, the number of women in the labour force
increased from 48.9 to 55.6 percent from 1980 to 1996.
While many of the jobs that women held during Asia's boom years
were low-skill, low-paid and repetitive work, Ghosh's paper says
that despite this the increase in number of employed women
benefited them socially and culturally.
Given the strong patriarchal traditions in most of Asia, the
ability to earn outside income was an important instrument for the
transformation of gender relations, argues Ghosh. However, she
says the economic crisis has tended to reverse the positive aspect
of this process.
While on one hand, industrial women workers are losing jobs in
the informal sector, there has been an influx of more women forced
to take up low-paying, menial jobs due to falling household
Worse still, there are worries that the economic crisis is
pushing large numbers of women into the commercial sex industry,
often in foreign countries.
"Both women and children, particularly the young girls, have
become increasingly vulnerable to being tempted or coerced into
migrating abroad in search of jobs," says Dr Saisuree Chutikul, a
senator in the Thai Parliament and chairperson of several bodies
working against trafficking in children and women.
"Unfortunately many of them will end up in the commercial sex
establishments of countries like Japan and Taiwan, " Saisuree
Domestic workers, who make up the bulk of Asian migrant women
workers, are also facing serious problems due to the economic
downturn and subsequent drop in demand for their services.
In Hong Kong for example, Filipino domestic workers have been
subjected to arbitrary wage freezes and even dismissals by
employers citing the economic crisis as reason.
In the long run, Ghosh points out the greatest damage to the
status of Asia's women may ultimately be due to the structural
adjustment programmes sponsored by the International Monetary Fund
(IMF), which has extended more than 100 billion dollars to bail
out economies from South Korea to Indonesia.
These "reform" programmes have forced governments to cut back
on social welfare, subsidies and increased dependence on private
sector-controlled market mechanisms.
Ghosh points out that the cuts in state subsidies are likely to
affect food security, a critical issue in populous countries like
China, India and Indonesia.
The lowering of food consumption due to rising prices will have
negative implications for women and girl children, usually the
first to be denied a proportional share in times of shortage.
The crisis will also have serious long-term impact on the
education of girls, who are being forced to drop out of school in
large numbers and assist in income-supplementing activities at
home, Ghosh says.
This is likely to perpetuate and even increase the traditional
gap in skills and levels of education between male and female
populations in the region.
In Thailand, for example, between 1980 and 1990 illiteracy
rates among girls were cut by half. In the past year following the
crisis, the elementary school drop-out rate has tripled and a
majority of the drop-outs are girls.
If governments do not specifically tackle problems faced by
women, the net result could be a steady erosion in women's status.
Says Ghosh: "There is apprehension that a traditionalist reaction
during times of economic crisis could result in the
'redomestication' of women."
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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