The impact of the economic crisis on women – two years on
Ruth Pearson Emeritus Professor of International Development
27th Mar 2012
Two years after Gender & Development published a special issue on the economic crisis, Ruth Pearson provides an update and calls for people to share their experiences.
In July 2010, a special issue of Gender & Development was published which analysed the impact of the economic crisis on women. At the time, there was very little evidence about the long term effect of the crisis. So where are we now, two years later?
Some things related to the crisis and women's lives are clear. The studies published two years ago demonstrated that in some countries and some sectors, women were facing unemployment, retrenchment, and redundancy - such as the cases of the informal workers in South Africa, the Filipino women
workers in garment and other export sectors, and the migrant workers in Thailand. These women have all continued to see their work opportunities diminishing, with a resulting fall in incomes for themselves and their families.
But other things are far from certain.
This crisis, which started off as a 'credit crunch' in North America, and then Western Europe, has segued inexorably into a crisis of investment, of economic stability, of shrinking markets, of rising government indebtedness, the viability of the Euro and the demise of European unity. Two years ago we were all convinced that we were facing a global world dominated by the demise of the Western powers and the rise of China, but even this seems more uncertain as the Chinese economy seems to be starting to slow down. The Arab Spring has led to intense struggles in the Gulf region
over who will control the oil and other resources underpinning those economies. One aspect of these struggles concerns the role of women in the post-revolutionary landscape, and whilst much attention has been given to the political representation and position of women in terms of legal and civic rights, it is very difficult to predict what the economic role of women will be in these new polities.
The extension, intensification, and diversification of the economic crisis is not only affecting jobs for women and men, as well as informal economy livelihoods and incomes it is also affecting state funded services and activities - in both the global North and South. Two years ago it appeared that men's jobs were in the front line, particularly in construction, heavy industry, and automobile production it is now apparent that the deepest and most savage reductions in expenditure and employment are in public sector service activities.
Such cuts hit women in two ways. Firstly, public sector service jobs are highly feminised occupations. Secondly the disappearance of the services that those jobs delivered hits women disproportionately. The crisis has also led to a radical reshaping of welfare provision, hitting poor families and lone parents, who are, predominantly, single mothers. Ironically, given the origins of the current crisis in the reckless extension of so called 'sub-prime' housing loans, support for low-income households who can't afford to cover housing costs in the private or social housing
sectors, is also being severely squeezed, and single-parent households are amongst those most severely affected.
Another issue is the cuts to the third sector. Donors - whether governments, international agencies, or private foundations - are having to cut back on their support for community-based activities, so women's refuges, rape crisis centres, day centres for the elderly or those with mental illnesses, for example, are disappearing rapidly. Again, these cuts have a two-fold, gendered impact. Firstly the loss of the services themselves, and the staff and volunteers who run these services are again predominantly women.
The effects of the crisis are different everywhere, and in some parts of the world, such as South America, they are barely felt at all. In 2010 it looked as if the economies of Brazil and Argentina would be negatively affected by the fall in global demand, but they have shown remarkable resilience, and a degree of autonomy, bolstered by the increased demand from China for some of their major agricultural products, such as soya, iron ore and petroleum. What we don't know is how this has played out with regard to poor communities in rural and urban areas in different parts of the
global South. In some parts of the world, there has been a growing crisis in food security, as land has been switched from food production to growing crops for use as industrial inputs, or for food for export, rather than for local consumption. But we know little about these long-term trends in terms of how they are influencing household survival and gender relations.
Share your experiences
In 2010, Gender & Development published a list of questions that women's groups and NGOs could use to monitor how the ongoing crisis was affecting their communities, with particular emphasis on the effects on women. The questions related to a number of indicators, such employment, food and nutrition, and public expenditure, any changes to which would help build up a picture of the different ways in which the crisis was affecting women and men, girls and boys, and different social groups.
Two years on, I am now using these same questions to invite women's groups, community-based organisations and NGOs to help to build up an evidence-based picture of the short term effects of the crisis, the coping strategies being deployed by poor families to survive, and how these things have changed over time.
If you would like to contribute please use the questions below, to provide real time evidence of the effects of the crisis, emailing your contribution to R.Pearson@Leeds.ac.uk.
- Jobs in wage and salary employment
Has anyone in your group, or any of their family, friends and neighbours been made redundant?
- Self-employment and informal economy work
If you are self employed has it become harder to find customers? Have the prices that are paid for the products or services supplied fallen? Is it harder to get loans for the business? Have particular sectors (food, clothes, watches, imported goods) been particularly affected?
- Migrants' remittances
Is anyone in your network in receipt of remittances from people who have migrated? Has anyone experienced a fall in remittances? Have any of the migrants returned home? Can you distinguish between men and women re migration and remittance changes?
- Cutbacks in public expenditure and donor finance?
Have you or anyone in your your network, noticed any cutbacks in public services? If so which sectors? Has it become harder to secure funding for women's groups? Has such funding been cut back or not renewed? Are services that are vital for women's rights, such as programmes to reduce violence against women, and support those women who have been subjected to violence being cut?
- Loss of assets, such as homes
Has anyone in your network taken out a loan to buy their home? Are they having difficulties servicing the loans? Have any of them been subject to foreclosure of their loan and loss of their home? Whose loans have been a problem? Has anyone had to sell jewellery or other property to raise cash? Whose jewellery, etc. has been sold and what has the money been used for?
- School attendance and costs?
Are any of the children of members your group, or of any of their family, friends and neighbours, finding it harder to attend school? Have they been forced to drop out? Do they have less time to spend on their school work? Have school fees or payments for uniforms and books etc. gone up?
- Food and nutrition
Is anyone in your network, finding it harder to provide the usual amount of food for their families? Is anyone buying cheaper food, spending more time making meals at home, growing their own vegetables, or cutting back on meals? Have people changed their pattern of shopping and cooking?
- Time use and unpaid work
Has anyone in your network, found themselves spending more time on unpaid work (e.g., preparing meals and caring for children) because they have had to cut back on spending? Has anyone spent more time as unpaid family workers in the fields or in small shops or businesses, in an effort to increase the family income?
- Gender roles
Has anyone in your network, heard people saying things like: 'Men have more right to jobs in a crisis because they are the main breadwinners'; 'It's women's job to make sure their families get by in the crisis'; 'Men get depressed when they lose their jobs, so women must take care of them'. Have there been any discussions on this topic in the newspapers or on radio or television?
- Government policies to cope with the crisis
Do members of your group know about what the government is doing to address the crisis? Have there been any bailouts of banks or corporations? Have taxes been cut? Who benefits from the cuts (if there are any)? Has public expenditure been increased - has there been a fiscal stimulus? What kinds of jobs are being protected/ created? Are they men's jobs or women's jobs? Are there plans for any increase in public expenditure on care services, water and sanitation and energy? Or are the plans mainly to increase expenditure on roads, bridges, dams, etc.? Have any measures
been introduced to support small businesses, or only to support large businesses?
- New poverty targeted-programmes such as Conditional Cash Transfers
Has the government introduced any new programmes to compensate poor women or households? Who has been eligible for these programmes? Who has financed them - government or international donors?
- From where have people affected by the crisis received most help and support?
Does support come from local government offices? From political parties? From religious institutions such as the mosque, the church, the temple, etc.? Who do people turn to when things get really difficult? Do women and men use the same sources of support?