Archive for March 26th, 2009

The bad news is that so many people are losing their jobs. The good news, says Mimi Abramovitz, are three new rules about jobless benefits in the Obama stimulus package that are bound to help women and correct a major gender bias.

After years of facing discrimination by the nation’s unemployment insurance program, women stand to disproportionately benefit from three new rules in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17. Popularly known as the stimulus package, the law provides the states with substantial financial incentives to “modernize” their unemployment insurance systems by closing major gaps that have denied benefits to more than 500,000 people, including many women.

Here’s how women gain; in addition to a temporary hike in the amount of the jobless benefit for all workers and a new dependent’s allowance:

    Benefits will now be provided to workers who must leave their jobs for compelling family reasons, such as caring for ill or disabled family members, relocating with a spouse whose job has moved to another area, or escaping domestic violence in which the abuser follows the woman to her workplace;

    The earning test now looks at the worker’s most recent employment, instead of excluding the last three to six months, making it much easier for low-wage workers and new entrants to the work force (read: large numbers of women) to qualify for benefits.

    Benefits are now available to workers seeking part-time work which also includes many women.

These three reforms–among others that are not of special value just to women–are long overdue given that the old rules were written for a work force that lawmakers imagined had very few women.

Today women make up about half of all paid workers and two-thirds of the part-time work force. Wives bring in more than one-third (35 percent) of their families’ total income–40 percent in African American households–and many women support families on their own.

The National Employment Law Project has reported that under the old, outmoded rules, unemployed men were more likely to receive benefits than unemployed women in 41 states.

This male-female gap dates to the start of the unemployment insurance program, which Congress included in the 1935 Social Security Act, to assist workers who lost jobs during the Great Depression.

At the time, the mostly white male lawmakers assumed that wage-earners looked like them. The truth is that even in the 1930s many women worked to help make ends meet, especially those raising children on their own and women of color. Nonetheless, the joint federal-state unemployment insurance program excluded farm workers and domestic workers, the two main occupations open to women and men of color at the time. Unemployment insurance gradually included domestic and farm workers.

It took a second major economic meltdown, however, to correct the gender bias.

Before the Obama administration liberalized the jobless qualifications, workers had to show a strong “attachment to the labor force” that was measured by wages earned and hours worked. They had to earn sufficient wages over an 18-month period that excluded their most recent earnings and could not be seeking a part-time job.

Women lost out because these rules reflected and supported male work patterns that by definition penalized women. The hidden assumption–that low earnings and fewer hours of work reflected a weak commitment to work–disadvantaged women who receive less pay and work fewer hours because they still bear the brunt of family responsibilities.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, most states considered women who left work to relocate with a spouse moving to a new job, to care for a disabled child, to refuse a shift change that made it impossible for them to find child care, or who left work because of domestic violence or stalking to have “voluntarily” quit and therefore were ineligible for benefits. But how “voluntary” is it when family obligations and fear of violence leave women no other choice?

In Texas women are three times as likely as men to become unemployed because of family responsibilities. About one-fifth of unemployed women nationally have left their last job for these kinds of reasons compared to only 6 percent of unemployed men. Yet women who fall though the cracks are least prepared to handle job loss. With limited savings to cover housing, health care and other basic necessities they are highly vulnerable to irreversible hardship and the vagaries of limited government programs that serve the nation’s destitute.

By the mid-1970s some states, faced with pressure from the women’s movement on these issues, slowly began to weaken or eliminate some of these sexist rules, but with only partial success.

Only 16 states allow workers to leave for good cause and qualify for unemployment insurance due to family responsibilities.

Only 28 states and the District of Columbia provide benefits to workers who must leave a job due to domestic violence.

And 33 states still deny unemployment benefits to spouses forced to leave their jobs as a result of a family move.

The unemployment insurance modernization features of the stimulus package delivered a sea change aided by 44,000 letters of support sent to Congress by MomsRising, an online group of mothers organized to fight for family-friendly policies.

Many of the modernization changes are hugely significant for women. To claim its full share of the $7 billion in federal recovery funds a state has to show the secretary of labor that it has already altered its unemployment insurance program along the right lines or agree to adopt new rules that will grant jobless benefits to hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers currently not covered by the system.

Some 31 states now have to change their unemployment insurance laws to take advantage of the millions of dollars in new jobless benefits. While some updated their laws prior to the stimulus bill, on March 12, Iowa became the first state to pass legislation allowing it to join the program. A dozen other states have expressed interest in adopting the new rules. States that choose not to comply with the new rules risk forfeiting some or all of their unemployment insurance modernization incentive grant, although by law recalcitrant governors may be overridden by the state’s legislature, as might happen in Louisiana.

By recognizing the needs of a changing labor force, the newly minted unemployment insurance rules will help women to escape lasting financial hardships caused by job loss. However because states only have to adopt two of four modernization rules to qualify for the full incentive payment, women need to be vigilant to ensure that their states select the new rules now free of gender bias.

It is fortunate for women that addressing gender bias in the jobless benefit program became one of the most effective ways to help jumpstart the economy. The National Employment Law Project calculated that each dollar of unemployment insurance benefits spent by workers and their families yields $2.15 in economic growth and preserves over 130,000 jobs.

Obama’s “New New Deal” for the unemployed is a great deal for everyone.

Mimi Abramovitz, the Bertha Capen Reynolds professor at Hunter College School of Social Work, is author of “Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy From Colonial Times to the Present;” the award-winning “Under Attack, Fighting Back: Women and Welfare in the U.S.;” and co-author of “Taxes are a Women’s Issue: Reframing the Debate.” She is currently writing “Gender Obligations: The History of Low-Income Women’s Activism since 1900.”

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Related: Senate Bill Could Help Women Keep Homes

See also:

* Out of Work and Benefits – Women in the US Look for Relief
* Single Moms’ Poverty Spikes After Welfare Overhaul in USA


Nergui Manalsuren interviews Rosa Lizarde of GCAP’s Feminist Taskforce

Activists are calling for an economic bailout plan for women and demanding that their voices be heard at the decision-making table ahead of the G20 summit of the world’s biggest economies in London on Apr. 2.

Rosa G. Lizarde, a member of GCAP, the Global Call to Action against Poverty, told IPS during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women this week that the taskforce is calling for women to be central to crafting solutions to the financial crisis – particularly since 70 percent of the world’s poor are female and the primary food providers for their families and communities.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: On International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, you launched the global Internet campaign, “20 Days to G20”, highlighting the connections between the feminisation of poverty and the global financial and economic crisis. What are the impacts of the current crisis on women?

RL: Well, there are many impacts of the crisis on women, primarily exacerbation of the food and energy crises. There is a very large percentage of women in the agricultural sector providing food for families, [so rising prices] creates more hardship for women and families, and has an impact on communities. In turn, those stresses create increased tension, which in turn increases violence against women.

Women also tend to be last to be hired and first to be fired during times of economic hardship. Particularly around the cuts that the private sector makes, there are reductions which impact women receiving services such as health care, education, and other social services. So the burden of the financial and the economic crisis falls on women.

IPS: How does this campaign hope to change the outcome of the G20 meeting?

RL: One of the reasons why we launched this “20 Days to G20” was to make those links between the feminisation of poverty and the financial, food, energy, and the climate change crisis. And to have women included in the dialogue and the decision-making of the economic and financial summits – not just the G20 meeting, but also at the upcoming conference on the economic and financial impacts on development. We want to ensure that particular attention is paid to the specific needs of women and girls due to the disproportionate hardships that they bear.

IPS: How much funding should be made available for gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly for the eradication of poverty?

RL: Well, as Sylvia Borren, co-chair of GCAP, has said, the funds that go to the economic bailouts don’t trickle down to women, but impacts of the financial crisis do trickle down to women. One of the issues is to look at how, during this time of crisis and negotiations within and amongst governments, to be able to bail out some of the hardships that women are facing.

Some people have mentioned that 0.7 percent of all bailout funds should go to the developing countries, and that a portion of that certainly should go to assist the conditions of women during this time. So there’s no exact estimate that we’re calling for, but we’re saying that we want to be included in any decision around funding.

IPS: What are some key policies that could provide immediate and long-term relief for women who are affected by the current financial crisis?

RL: Some of the key policy points we have outlined in the platform policy paper directed to the upcoming G20 meeting around the issues of justice, accountability, jobs, and the climate change. We’re calling for the eradication of poverty and inequality, within that we want to ensure that needs of women and girls are addressed because it is estimated that 70 percent of the poor are women.

In terms of accountability, we want to ensure democratic governance of the global economy, and we call for the support of the U.N. to serve as the heart of the solutions for the financial and economic crisis.

Within the area of jobs, we call for decent jobs and public services for all with particular attention to be paid to identifying and responding to the specific needs of women and disenfranchised communities.

Around climate, we want governments to commit to investing in women as one of the most effective ways to advance sustainable development and to help to combat the climate change devastation.

IPS: Are there enough women in the dialogue and decision-making processes of the economic and financial summits?

RL: I think if we look at the members of the G20 and the heads of those governments, the members of the Stiglitz Commission that are meeting today [Mar. 10] as a matter of fact and have been meeting these past couple of days to provide alternative solutions to the financial crisis, we see that women are not represented as they are in the general population, which is 50 percent.

So I think that until we achieve that 50 percent representation, we can’t say that women are represented equally. Currently, at the table of the G20, the U.N., and other commissions, we know that women are not equally represented at the negotiating [and] decision-making table – that’s the fact.

For other stories from IPS Gender Wire (24/03/09) see

IPS wants to redress a huge imbalance that exists today: only 22% of the voices you hear and read in the news are women’s. Elections, health, education, armed conflicts, corruption, laws, trade, climate change, the global financial and food crises, and natural disasters. IPS covers these frontline issues asking an often forgotten question: What does this mean for women and girls?

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*** Stephanie Nieuwoudt interviews LISA VETTEN, gender rights activist
CAPE TOWN (IPS) – With its emphasis on gender equality, the South African constitution is regarded as a great example for many other developing countries. Yet, despite laws intended to protect the rights of women like the Sexual Abuse Act and the Domestic Violence Act, women in the country still suffer indignities at the hands of police and in court.

Q&A: Women Better, But Far From Equal
*** Miren Gutierrez* interviews SAADIA ZAHIDI, head of the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme at the World Economic Forum (WEF)
ROME (IPS) – Denying women access to political and economic power is a “strategic waste”, says Saadia Zahidi, co-author of the WEF’s Global Gender Gap (GGG) report in a telephone interview from Geneva.

POLITICS: Form of New U.N. Women’s Entity Still Nebulous
*** By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – When a high-level panel of former political leaders and senior government officials released a study in late 2006 on ways to eliminate duplication and strengthen coordination among the U.N.’s myriad bodies, it also recommended the creation of a specialised agency for women aimed at consolidating gender-related activities under a single umbrella.

CHILE: Agricultural Boom Passes Women Farmers By
*** By Pamela Sepúlveda
SANTIAGO (IPS) – Although agricultural exports are among the most productive and steadily growing sectors in Chile, rural women continue to face precarious jobs, low wages, little access to land and the growing dominance of agribusiness.

Q&A: Women’s Special Water Needs Find Voice
*** Hilmi Toros interviews JOKE MUYLWIJK, executive director of Gender and Water Alliance
ISTANBUL (IPS) – Climate change and corrupt practices are considered root causes for a potential water crisis of global proportions, leading to scarcity where water is needed most and flooding where it is needed the least.

ECONOMY-SRI LANKA: Conditions Worsen For Women Workers
*** By Feizal Samath
BIYAGAMA (IPS) – Ramani, 26, sits inside her small, dimly-lit boarding house room, cutting vegetables, in this industrial town outside Colombo. She plans to return to her rural village in May to get married.

Q&A: Why Not Wages for “Women’s Work”?
*** Mirela Xanthaki interviews JAN PETERSON of the Huairou Commission
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ARGENTINA: Bold New Law on Violence Against Women
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*** Ben Case interviews NOMBONISO GASA, activist and hunger striker
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RIGHTS-BRAZIL: Law Still Not Saving Women’s Lives
*** By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO (IPS) – Rosemary Fracasso, a 37-year-old mother of two teenagers, was murdered by her ex husband with a machete. During the attack he cut off her fingers and arms and left her heart visible through a gaping chest wound.

Q&A: Women Must Challenge the “Gatekeepers of Culture”
*** Nastassja Hoffet interviews women’s rights activist AISHA SHAHEED
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PARAGUAY: Nurses Seeking Greener Pastures in Italy
*** By Natalia Ruiz Díaz
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