The global economic downturn has been tough on both men and women but women have been experiencing more adverse effects. In both the developed and developing world female workers continue to face more challenging circumstances simply because of their gender. Women’s over-representation in public sector jobs, lower-paid professions or part-time work, as well as, an antiquated unemployment benefit system and involvement in the informal economy characterize a few of the problems.
In the UK, public sector jobs experienced some of the worst cuts due to the economic crisis and as The Guardian reports: “Women make up around 65% of the public sector, and are represented even more highly in some areas, such as local government, where 75% of workers are female,” which means hundreds of thousands of women will become unemployed. The British government has put all of its hopes in the private sector to revive the sluggish economy but this may not be a viable solution for women. Since the private sector is not generally as accommodating or flexible with work hours, women may find it impossible to work and care for their children. Additionally cuts to social programs that made childcare more affordable will require women to now think twice about working, impacting not just women’s progress but the entire family’s income. Statistics show that women in need of employment are accepting lower-paid jobs or part-time work at a higher rate and it is not clear that they are making those decisions out of free will. This is a problem with the entire current system, which makes employment for women more feasible in the public sector, then, when those jobs as well as various benefits are cut, forces them into unemployment with a number of disadvantages in trying to re-enter the workforce through the private sector.
In the United States female workers also fill most of the jobs in teaching, nursing and childcare. With painful budget cuts since 2008 these positions have been vanishing at an accelerated rate, forcing women into a jobless existence, in many cases without the promise of any benefits. Before the 2009 Recovery and Reinvestment Act, unemployment benefits were still a design that fit the 1930’s more than our current times. As Martha Burk asserts in the Winter 2012 issue of Ms. magazine “Unemployment was crafted as a safety net for those who worked full-time (men), met a certain income threshold (men again), and lost their jobs solely because of an employer’s decision (yep, men).” The Act has made it possible for part-time workers and those who did not previously meet the specified earnings level, who very often are women, to claim benefits. Unfortunately these reforms are only temporary as they were a part of the stimulus package, which means that unless they are made permanent, women will once again be left out of necessary benefits in the future. Moreover, people who would continue to benefit from these changes include those who “…leave their jobs for compelling family reasons- caring for an ill or disabled family member, relocating with a spouse or escaping domestic violence.”
Since gender discrimination continues to play a varying but still significant role in the lives of women all over the world, it is not surprising that the female face of the financial crisis is different from the male. As the International Labor Organization points out, in developing countries women are often involved in the informal economy, agriculture or service jobs, which all have a tendency to deteriorate under an economic downturn. Developing economies that depend on exports often employ large numbers of female workers in factories, like the maquilas in Nicaragua where 85% of the workforce is made up women. With the recession’s decreasing demand for the goods those factory workers produce, the jobs cease to exist. By weeding out sexist systemic flaws and encouraging all employers to strive for an inclusive workforce of men and women, countries will begin to see a less gendered recession. Empowering women in the developed and developing world will take time as centuries of double standards must die out but the more vigilant and active societies become the sooner will we begin to see promising changes. An economic recovery cannot be complete without women. If countries commit to gender mainstreaming across the board, any economic downturn won’t have such disparate effects on men and women, and women won’t be pushed to poverty or the brink of it.