Archive for the ‘Employment Work’ Category

Forty years after the second wave of the women’s liberation movement began there has been a major slide in consciousness about women’s rights and the continuing need for women to struggle for them. Since the demise of the movement in the late 70s women have been the target of a sustained ideological campaign, or a ‘backlash’ as that has been aimed at weakening feminist consciousness.

The most important aspect of the backlash message is that on the one hand women have broken down all the old barriers and therefore don’t need to worry about old-fashioned feminist ideas. Liberal feminists point to individual examples of women who have ‘broken through’ the glass ceiling thus proving that any woman can make it in a man’s world if they have the talent and determination. However, the weakness of the liberal perspective is that it doesn’t recognize the structural limitations imposed on women under capitalism, rather focusing on the piecemeal approach of gradual reform. While they may admit that the majority of women are still concentrated in lower-paid jobs and bearing the double-burden of paid work and housework, these isolated ‘issues’ simply become more grist for further campaigns for reform, they don’t recognize that these conditions are fundamental to capitalism and therefore cannot offer a way forward.

The other major element of the backlash message is that the women’s liberation movement has left women holding a poisoned chalice – now that women have all the freedom and equality they could possibly want they either don’t know what to do with it resulting in confusion and depression, or they went too far following their dreams of a fulfilling career and missed the boat on the ultimate prize – motherhood and marriage. Thus more and more women are realizing that you can’t be a ‘superwoman’ and have everything and logically the extraneous part of a woman’s life is her broader social role and is the first to get sacrificed. There is a constant supply of books and magazines discussing why women are ‘opting out’ of the ‘rat-race’ in order to find true fulfillment in their roles as mothers and housewives.

Of course the media never venture to question why it is that women do find it difficult to juggle motherhood and a career, for example lack of affordable, quality child-care, paid maternity and paternity leave etc, etc, simply shunting the responsibility of working out the balance onto individual women. Furthermore, the bigger question of why so many people, male or female, hate or simply tolerate their paid work is ignored, trying to answer that question might call into question the nature of system and the meaningless and lack of control that most people find in their paid work. And while Susan Faludi originally identified the key elements of the backlash message in the early 90s, an article in the US Socialist Worker critiqued the results of a survey that had come up with the exact same backlash conclusions – in October last year! In reviewing the results of the survey entitled ‘The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness’ self-help guru Marcus Buckingham claimed that “though women now have the liberty to choose whichever life they’d like, many are struggling in their pursuit of a happy life”. But as the author of the article notes “maybe the declining numbers of women who consider themselves happy … represents women who are unhappy not because these victories were won in the past, but because they are being pushed back in the present” for example by “the fraying of the social security net, the turbo-charged misogyny of pop culture” etc.

However the predictability of the bourgeois media in pushing the same old line for more than two decades also gives us a clear indication of the arguments that we need to take up, through our internal education and also through our publications and in any campaigns that we may get involved with. Firstly, the most important task is to convince a new generation that women are still the oppressed sex. Secondly, to convince women that the only way they really can ‘have it all’ is to get rid of capitalism, the ultimate barrier to women’s liberation while at the same time struggling for reforms, and against attacks on women’s rights, in the here and now.

In order to understand women’s oppression we need to look at the big picture and uncover the long view of women’s history, only then will we be able to see that seemingly disconnected fragments connect into an ancient storyline that has been replaying itself over and over again for thousands of years.

If we want to understand the issue of women’s oppression we need to start with the family. Today the image of the happy (and in Australia nauseatingly white) nuclear family is absolutely everywhere we look. It goes without saying that when a politician announces a new policy it’s pitched as being in the interests of ‘working class families’ or ‘Australian families’. The image of the family is used to sell everything from cars to Weet Bix, which apparently has been “building Australian families for more than 50 years”. In fact you could say we are living in a culture that seemingly idolizes and adulates the family, perhaps we will be seen by future anthropologists as the ‘family cult’ culture.

But while it can seem as if everybody who is anybody is living within the cosy confines of the family the facts are seriously out of kilter with the image. For example currently about a quarter of all households are composed of one person and this proportion is expected to increase to one third by 2026. Furthermore the “proportion of total households comprising families with children has steadily decreased over the last 20 years”. Furthermore behind the airbrushed perfection of the ads and comforting conservative rhetoric of today’s politicians, lies the reality of nuclear family as often being a private hell rather than comforting haven, for example in 2002 46% of all marriages ended in divorce, domestic violence is the most likely cause of preventable death for women under 45 and there were 55,000 cases of child abuse and neglect recorded in 2008.

So why aren’t the images and policy changing to fit the reality?

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Despite the lack of gender issues on past agendas, ironically the forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report has become a trusted source of information on progress made – or the lack thereof – by the world’s nations towards gender parity. Its premise is that a nation’s well-being is correlated to the status of women. One has only to look at the top of the report’s rankings, dominated by Scandinavian countries, to see the connection. At the bottom of the 2009 list: Yemen.

The discourse at the forum itself, however, hasn’t been focused enough on the undervalued asset, in terms of human capital, represented by women and girls. Last year, during a Davos conversation on the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, it was agreed that the 2008 economic crisis might have been averted had the firm been “Lehman Brothers and Sisters.”

Start of a longer article at

See also: The Gender Agenda: Putting Parity into Practice
And video on YouTube:

Plus: Microfinance Could Be Hazardous For Teenage Women

Holiday care has fallen through the cracks of Australia’s childcare debate but is looming as a flashpoint in workplace relations, as parents and unions push for greater flexibility.

Women’s groups are demanding a Productivity Commission inquiry into school holiday and before and after-school care because of the long-term impact on working mothers and families.

While holiday care is usually juggled by parents using a mix of relatives, friends and commercial programs, it is typically women who opt out of paid work or take lower-status, less-secure jobs to cover the eight-week gap between a worker’s annual leave and 12 weeks of school holidays.

Women will regularly trade away pay, conditions and workplace prestige for jobs beneath their educational and professional levels to cope with holidays, said Dr Sara Charlesworth, an RMIT expert in industrial legislation and part-time work.

”They will choose part-time work and trade off job quality in many instances so they are able to manage the sometimes insurmountable issue of vacation care,” Dr Charlesworth said.

”The problem is there is not a central regulator for before and after-school care or vacation care so we don’t know what the shortfall [in supply] is.”

ACTU president Sharan Burrow agreed parents had been left high and dry on the holiday issue, although new national employment standards gave them the right to request flexible working arrangements, which could help some balance their work and family responsibilities.

”Possible arrangements during school holidays could include changed starting and finishing times, part-time work, or working from home,” she said. ”There is also a clear need for more access to affordable services such as school-holiday care programs. Unions will be campaigning for more of these services this year.”

Many union-negotiated collective agreements also include options such as 50/52 arrangements, where employees gain additional annual leave in return for a salary reduction.

”If we value women’s participation in the workforce, we have to provide more services and options to enable mothers to seek employment,” Ms Burrow said.

The National Foundation of Australian Women wants the government to tackle the childcare imbalance because of its impact on women’s financial wellbeing and retirement funds.

”It’s high time attention is focused not only on childcare for children under school age, but also on the needs of school-aged children,” the foundation told a recent government inquiry into the collapse of ABC Learning Centres.

”The lack of availability of affordable, accessible, acceptable-quality care for school-aged children (6-15 years) out of school hours, including during vacations, is a major cause of disadvantage in relation to women’s workforce participation.”

Part-time work affects immediate pay rates, advancement to better-paid positions and the likelihood of poverty in retirement, the group warned.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 42 per cent of working couple families use some childcare for schoolchildren aged five to 14 years.

The main sources are grandparents (18 per cent) and before/after school care (11 per cent). No exclusive statistics have been gathered on the demand for and use of formal and informal vacation care.

In Europe and the United States, working families have traditionally used summer camps to cover the long school holiday breaks, but it is a fledgling industry in Australia struggling with parental resistance to costs and the idea of children being left in the care of strangers.

New State Government regulations enforcing health and safety standards and ratios of carers to children on long-stay or day-care vacation programs have caused some operators to close down or cancel programs this summer.

Many private operators contacted by The Sunday Age reported a 10 to 15 per cent drop in bookings as families cut back in the wake of the financial crisis.

Extremist Threat to Women Increasing, Government Failing to Protect

The situation for Afghan women and girls is dire and could deteriorate. While the world focuses on the Obama administration’s new security strategy, it’s critical to make sure that women’s and girls’ rights don’t just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors.

Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, women and girls suffer high levels of violence and discrimination and have poor access to justice and education, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The Afghan government has also failed to bring killers of prominent women in public life to justice, creating an environment of impunity for those who target women.

The 96-page report, “We Have the Promises of the World: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan,” details emblematic cases of ongoing rights violations in five areas: attacks on women in public life; violence against women; child and forced marriage; access to justice; and girls’ access to secondary education.

“The situation for Afghan women and girls is dire and could deteriorate,” said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While the world focuses on the Obama administration’s new security strategy, it’s critical to make sure that women’s and girls’ rights don’t just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors.”

While the plight of women and girls under the Taliban was used to help justify the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, women’s rights have not been a consistent priority of the government or its international backers. With fundamentalist factions in government gathering strength, the insurgency gaining ground, and some form of reconciliation with Taliban factions firmly on the horizon, the gains made by Afghan women and girls since 2001 in areas such as education, work, and freedom of movement are under serious threat.

“Women are not a priority for our own government or the international community,” Shinkai Karokhail, a member of Parliament, told Human Rights Watch. “We’ve been forgotten.”

Women in public life are subject to routine threats and intimidation. Several high profile women have been assassinated, but their killers have not been brought to justice. When Sitara Achakzai, an outspoken and courageous human rights defender and politician, was murdered in April 2009, her death was another warning to all women who are active in public life.

High profile women interviewed for this report say that they feel they are not taken seriously when they report threats. One member of parliament who, like some others, spoke anonymously because of the danger they face, told Human Rights Watch:

“I’ve had so many threats. I report them sometimes, but the authorities tell me not to make enemies, to keep quiet. But how can I stop talking about women’s rights and human rights?”

A woman police officer who has received death threats said:

“They told me that they will kill my daughters. Every minute I’m afraid. I can never go home – the government cannot protect me there. My old life is over.”

One nationwide survey of levels of violence against Afghan women found that 52 percent of respondents experienced physical violence, and 17 percent reported sexual violence. Yet because of social and legal obstacles to accessing justice, few women and girls report violence to the authorities. These barriers are particularly formidable in rape cases. Although women activists and members of parliament pushed hard and succeeded in putting rape on the statute books this year for the first time, the government has shown little willingness to treat each case as a serious crime or to engage in a public education campaign to change attitudes.

The lack of justice compounds women’s vulnerability. One woman who was gang raped by a well connected local commander found that after a long fight to bring her rapists to justice, they were freed by a presidential decree. Soon after in 2009, her husband was assassinated. The woman told Human Rights Watch that he was killed because he had battled for her rights:

“I have lost my son, my honor, and now my husband,” she said. “But I am just a poor woman, so who will listen to me?”

Surveys suggest that in more than half of all marriages, the wives are under age 16, and 70 to 80 percent of marriages take place without the consent of the woman or girl. These practices underlie many of the problems faced by women and girls, as there is a strong correlation between domestic violence and early and forced marriage.

A 13-year-old girl who was forced into marriage explained to Human Rights Watch that after she dared to escape she was hunted by her husband’s family: “They came and asked for me to come back. I said no; they kept coming. I always say no… I can’t go back. They want to kill me.” Women activists who gave the girl shelter were denounced in parliament. Years later, the young woman is still fighting for a legal separation from her illegal marriage.

This case is just one in the report that illustrates the fundamental problem faced by women and girls of lack of access to justice. Studies suggest that more than half the women and girls in detention are being held for “moral crimes,” such as adultery or running away from home, despite the fact that running away from home is not a crime in Afghan law or Sharia. But whether it is a high-profile woman under threat, a young woman who wants to escape a child marriage, or a victim of rape who wants to see the perpetrator punished, the response from the police or courts is often hostile.

“Police and judges see violence against women as legitimate so they do not prosecute cases,” Dr. Soraya Sobhrang of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission told Human Rights Watch.

Law reforms that protect women’s rights are important, but leadership is also required to help shift attitudes and prevent abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government needs to take its responsibility to protect women and girls seriously,” Reid said. “President Hamid Karzai has a lot of work to do to restore his reputation as a moderate on women’s rights.”

After the destruction of many girls’ schools by the Taliban, education for girls became the most symbolic element of the international donor effort in Afghanistan. Despite significant gains, stark gender disparities remain. The majority of girls still do not attend primary school. A dismal 11 percent of secondary-school-age girls are enrolled in grades seven through nine. Only 4 percent of girls make it to grades 10 through 12. While the number of both boys and girls attending school drops dramatically at the secondary school level, the decline is much more pronounced for girls.

The diminishing status of women’s rights in Afghanistan was forced back onto the agenda in March when the discriminatory Shia Personal Status law was passed by parliament and signed by Karzai. Faced with national and international protests, Karzai allowed the law to be amended, but many egregious articles remain that impose drastic restrictions upon Shia women, including the requirement that wives seek their husbands’ permission before leaving home except for unspecified “reasonable legal reasons,” and granting child custody rights solely to fathers and grandfathers.

“We welcomed the international community’s words on the Shia law – really – they said many beautiful things, as they did in 2001” said Wazhma Frogh, women’s rights activist. “We have the promises of the world. But still we wait to see what more they will do.”

Karzai should revise the law to protect women’s rights fully and appoint women who have been active defenders of women’s rights to positions of power, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Shia law provided a timely reminder of how vulnerable Afghan women are to political deals and broken promises,” Reid said. “Karzai should begin his new presidency with a clear signal to women that his will be a government that wants to advance equality.”

Key Recommendations of “We Have the Promises of the World: Women’s rights in Afghanistan
* The government and donors should make the promotion and protection of women’s rights a main priority of the country’s reconstruction and a central pillar of their political, economic, and security strategies.
* The government, with the support of donors, should embark on a large-scale awareness campaign to ensure that rape is understood to be a crime by law enforcement agencies, judges, parliament, civil servants, and the Afghan public. The campaign should also aim to reduce the stigmatization of victims of rape.
* The government should make marriage registration more widely available and compulsory.
* The president should order the release of, and offer an apology and compensation to, all women and girls wrongfully detained on the charge of “running away from home.”
* The government, with the support of donors, should increase the number and geographic coverage of girls’ secondary classes by building more girls’ secondary schools, and ensure the recruitment and training of female teachers is accelerated.
* The government, with the support of the UN and other donors, should prioritize security for women candidates and voters in planning for the 2010 parliamentary elections.
* International donors and the United Nations, in conjunction with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, should conduct a full gender audit of all spending in Afghanistan.

Related Materials: “We Have the Promises of the World

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Nicole Johnston reports on the formidable Women’s Forum not accepting the status quo in Malawi.

As the world’s decision makers embark on the road to Copenhagen, the oft-repeated refrain is that climate change will hit Africa “first and worst”. What we don’t hear enough about is the enormous additional burden it is already placing on rural African women.

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Add climate change to the mix and the combination is deadly – particularly for women.

“Poverty is the cause of HIV here,” says Maria Gondwe of the Karonga Women’s Forum. “If the rains are too heavy or if they don’t come, then the yield is poor. Since 2001 we have noticed the weather changing. Floods come and wash our rice away and because we are farmers we don’t have the money to buy more seed. We are already in poverty, then that adds hunger.”

“It is getting hotter so we have to work shorter hours, which means we cultivate a smaller area and can grow less food,” adds Rachel Kasambara. “It is harder to live by farming than it was 10 years ago. I have grandchildren as well as orphans living in my house so there is a shortage of food. Maybe we will get a meal once a day. Sometimes we just eat a sweet potato and drink water before we sleep.”

It is considered the responsibility of women and girls to ensure there is food in the house, and as it becomes increasingly difficult to survive on agriculture, many women are forced to sell sex. “Some parents tell their daughters ˜there is no food, go find some money to eat’,” explains Forum chairperson Caroline Malema. “Then the girls come home with money and with sugar and the parents are happy. But once she is infected they chase her and say ˜go back with this thing to where you got it’. Or they marry a 14-year-old girl to an old man in his fifties because he has cattle. If she refuses they throw her out and she ends up as a prostitute.”

And women with husbands and children are also often unable to protect themselves from the virus: “The men say condoms are for prostitutes. If you insist, they will accuse you of having other men and divorce you. But they are the ones who go out and act carelessly and bring this [HIV] home with them,” says Gondwe angrily.

“Women in the more remote villages don’t have money to get to the clinic to get ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] so sometimes they will walk 50km to get the drugs.”

And double standards are rife says Malema: “Many men are HIV positive but don’t tell their wives. They will hide their pills and take them in secret. But if she finds she is HIV positive and wants to take ART he will chase her and accuse her of being a prostitute.”

But the Women’s Forum is not accepting the status quo, and is fighting a formidable battle on a number of fronts – from seeking justice for survivors of sexual violence to challenging gender dynamics. “We as women are not counted in Malawi,” says Malema. “They say a woman cannot be above a man. We aim to empower women – especially the younger generation – whether they are discriminated against for being HIV positive or have been raped, or want to go into politics.” The forum has successfully campaigned for a local woman, Beatrice Nyankonde, who is now running for election as a member of parliament.

The courage and generosity displayed by the members of the forum is astounding, particularly as they have no funds except those they raise from doing yet more work. What they do have is human capital, and a deep sense of solidarity with other women. “We make mats and knit baby jackets and sell them,” says Eliza Mbale, the forum’s treasurer. “With that money we are able to buy soap for orphaned children and widows. We help them with household chores and work in their fields so they will be able to grow some food. We have no finance or other way of helping so the little we have we try to share.”

Queen Kayira’s story

“My name is Queen Kayira and I am from Malawi, which you know is a poor country. I am a widow with five children and my husband died in 2000 leaving me with nothing. This changing of the climate is giving us a lot of troubles, because we can no longer make small businesses like selling bananas and cassava.

I decided to go the bottle store to find a man so I could find money to support my family. Instead, I found HIV. Men refuse if you want to use a condom; they say it is like eating a sweet with the plastic wrapper still on it.

I stopped doing sex work two years ago. I changed my behaviour because I learned I was HIV+ and I didn’t want to infect other people. I know if men sleep with me without a condom they will take that virus back to their wives.

Now I am a volunteer at the Karonga Women’s Forum. I sell tomatoes and bread to feed my children and I also knit things to sell, but I am still suffering.

I am afraid that other women, especially young girls will turn to sex work to feed their families. Because we are not getting good crops any more girls are under pressure to find food. This pressure is only on girls, not boys, because girls are seen as useless and we are not valued. While girls are selling themselves, the boys are going to school or being taught skills like carpentry.”

See also:
* Trying to give sex workers safer alternatives in Malawi
* Project to help Malawi’s sex workers – BBC audio

Investigate 8 Deaths and Why So Many of These Workers Die

The Lebanese government should investigate the deaths of eight migrant domestic workers during October 2009, as well as the reasons for the disproportionately high death rate among this group of workers, Human Rights Watch has said. An estimated 200,000 domestic workers, primarily from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, work in Lebanon.

Four of the deaths are classified by police reports or by the workers’ embassies as suicides, three as possible work accidents, and one as a heart attack. Six of the deaths occurred when migrant domestic workers either fell or jumped from high places. One woman committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. The dead include four Ethiopians, two Nepalis, and two Malagasies.

“The death toll last month is clear evidence that the government isn’t doing enough to fix the difficult working conditions these women face,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to explain why so many women who came to Lebanon to work end up leaving the country in coffins.”

In August 2008, Human Rights Watch published a study showing that migrant domestic workers were dying at a rate of more than one a week in Lebanon.

A diplomat at the consulate of the country from which one of the dead women came told Human Rights Watch: “These women are under pressure, with no means to go away. Their passports are seized and they are often locked away in their employer’s house. It is like they are living in a cage. Human beings need to mingle with others; otherwise they lose their will to live.”

An official steering committee created in early 2006 and led by the labor ministry has taken some steps to improve the treatment of migrant domestic workers. In January 2009, the labor ministry introduced a standard employment contract that clarifies certain terms and conditions of employment for domestic workers, such as the maximum number of daily working hours, as well as a new regulation for employment agencies that aims to improve oversight of their operations. However, these workers are still excluded from the country’s labor law, and there are still no enforcement mechanisms for the current rules governing domestic employment.

“As long as Lebanon does not appoint labor inspectors to ensure compliance with the new rules, these rules will exist on paper only,” Houry said.

Human Rights Watch urged the official steering committee that works to improve the status of domestic workers to begin tracking deaths and injuries, to ensure that the police properly investigate them and to develop a concrete strategy to reduce these deaths. This strategy should include combating the practice of forced confinement, providing a labor ministry hotline for the workers, appointing labor inspectors, and improving working conditions and labor law protections.

Human Rights Watch also urged governments of the migrant workers’ countries of origin to increase the services at their embassies and diplomatic missions in Lebanon by providing counseling and shelter for workers in distress.

Details about Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers in October 2009

On October 8, Sunit Bholan of Nepal, 22, reportedly committed suicide.

On October 16, Kassaye Etsegenet of Ethiopia, 23, died after reportedly jumping from the seventh floor of a building on Charles Helou avenue in Beirut. Etsegenet left a suicide note in which she states that her decision was based on personal reasons, in particular, a fight with another member of her family.

On October 21, Zeditu Kebede Matente of Ethiopia, 26, was found dead in the town of Haris hanging from an olive tree.

On October 23, Saneet Mariam of Ethiopia, 30, died after falling from the balcony of her employer’s house in the town of Mastita.

On October 23, Mina Rokaya, of Nepal, 24, died after being transferred from her employer’s house in Blat to a hospital. The police report says that she died from a heart attack.

On October 28, Tezeta Yalmoya of Ethiopia, 26, died after falling from the third floor of the apartment building where she worked in `Abra, next to Saida. According to reports in local papers, she fell while cleaning the balcony.

Newspapers in Madagascar reported the deaths of two Malagasy women in Lebanon in October. The first worker, identified as Mampionona, reportedly fell from the third floor while cleaning the balcony. She had arrived in Lebanon on September 1. The other, identified as Vololona, died after reportedly jumping from the fourth floor.

Some immigrant women’s advocates are concerned that legislation, drafted by Canadian immigration authorities earlier this year, may be detrimental for some females wanting to move to Canada.

Bill C-45 would give Canadian visa officers the right to reject visa applications from live-in caregivers if they have any reason to suspect they will be exploited or mistreated by their employer.

Although the legislation is designed to protect female immigrants, Cecilia Diocson from the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada is one of many immigrant women advocates who believe the bill could do more harm than good.

She claimed that the new bill will actually act as a barrier to women who want to work in Canada in the care industry. She claimed the bill gives the visa officer, “the power to refuse entry if he thinks or she thinks the person is not desirable to come.”

However, Jason Kenney, the Canadian immigration minister, says the bill would not be used as a barrier to stop people moving to Canada. He claims it will only be used, “in really extraordinary circumstances where a caregiver may go into an abusive situation.”

Kenney added that further legislation to protect immigrant caregivers is on its way.

Many more women than men are in vulnerable employment, working without pay for a member of their household or self-employed.

A public presentation of the “Progress of the World’s Women” report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Pretoria, South Africa this week suggests that one of the most powerful constraints on realising women’s rights and achieving the Millennium Development Goals is a lack of accountability to women’s needs.

The report sets out a gender-responsive definition for accountability: the capacity of women to get information and explanations of government actions, initiate investigations or be compensated where necessary, and to see officials sanctioned where women’s needs are ignored or women’s rights not protected.

Poor women in particular are affected by weak accountability, and if they are to gain a voice in corporate and civic governance in spite of unequal gender relations, the report recommends that the number of women in decision-making posts be increased and, equally importantly, institutions be transformed to be more responsive to women’s needs.

The Pretoria presentation focused on women’s rights in the context of powerful global market forces.

“We see the economic and financial crisis as an opportunity to reconsider our economic models in terms of gender equality and achieving the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals),” said UNIFEM’s deputy executive director, Joanne Sandler, at the launch Monday.

Drawing on figures produced by the International Labour Organisation, UNIFEM’s Progress report shows how more women than men are in vulnerable employment, working without pay for a member of their household or self-employed. Over 60 percent of unpaid family workers are women.

In formal employment, hundreds of thousands of the jobs created in Africa during the economic growth period following the turn of the millennium – many of which were filled by women – are proving to be extremely vulnerable in the downturn.

UNIFEM Executive Director Ines Alberdi, who was addressing the Fifth Annual Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament in Vienna on Monday, said that in Africa, where a booming export apparel industry has provided thousands of new jobs for poor women since 2002, including over 100,000 in Kenya, Lesotho and Swaziland, falling holiday sales are destroying the industry’s viability.

Morocco’s textile industry, including carpets, knitwear and garment manufacturing, where women constitute up to 79 percent of workers, has already lost 10,000 jobs due to the crisis.

According to Alberdi, statistics from the 1997 Asian financial crisis show that increased violence and abuse against women and a rise in infant and child deaths are some of the possible detrimental effects of the present crisis.

She added that girls in poor countries with low education attainment rates are more likely to be pulled out of school as households cope with declining resources; by 2007, girls already accounted for 54 percent of the world’s out-of-school population, a percentage likely to rise higher.

“…it is now a truism that in every crisis there is an opportunity. Global crises such as this one, which can define a generation, can upset the business-as-usual way the world operates, which makes it so hard to bring about change,” said Alberdi.

Business-as-usual, according to the report, has seen governments try to attract investment by, for example, weakening labour and environmental standards in special Export Processing Zones (EPZs).

UNIFEM is sharply critical of this approach in terms of accountability, pointing out that what attracts investment to these zones is the low cost of labour – mostly female. The often-secret deals reached between governments and companies in these zones place huge obstacles in the way of millions of women demanding fair wages and working conditions.

The report evaluates several voluntary or consumer-driven corporate social responsibility initiatives, before making recommendations which may not be welcome reading for transnational business owners: gender equality must become an explicit part of national legislation and international trade policy (and gender disaggregated data will be needed to guide this); women should be involved in national economic planning and the negotiation of trade agreements; and special – though temporary – measures to increase the number of women in decision-making are needed, including quotas for women on the boards of publicly-listed companies.

In a nutshell, governments must hold market institutions accountable.

This will require powerful mobilisation of women. Pointing to the role played by women’s movements around the world in challenging authoritarian governments, pressing for peace, and promoting legislative changes to laws governing marriage, inheritance and harmful traditional customs, the UNIFEM report’s authors are optimistic that governments can be made to answer to women.

World Bank: plus ça change

Contrast UNIFEM’s recommendations with those found in a recent policy document written by the World Bank’s senior spokesperson on gender and development issues, Mayra Buvinic.

Buvinic believes that women and girls in the developing world will be disproportionally affected by the global economic crisis. She suggests that responses that build on women’s roles as economic agents can go a long way towards mitigating negative effects.

“In Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya and South Africa, among other countries, rigorous studies unequivocally show that children’s welfare (nutritional status, schooling attendance) in poor households improves more when income is in women’s hands rather than in men’s,” she writes.

So economic opportunities for poor women should be at the heart of designing safety nets, employment creation projects and financial sector operations.

“In particular, micro-finance institutions should be capitalised so that they continue to offer credit and other financial services to poor borrowers, the majority of whom are women. The development payoffs of these investments should be large – both in terms of mitigating current hardships and preventing future ones, and are a smart use of development assistance.”

Public works programmes targeting women are praised; limited fiscal ability to provide social safety nets by governments deplored.

But no mention of a role for improved regulation of the market forces which have delivered food and financial crises or the vulnerable employment that is evaporating so rapidly.

(Reminder: We now have the rss feed from Genderwire – IPS News – displayed in the column to the right.)

Rwandan refugee women in Uganda face particular hardships under a repatriation push that started in April, with a July 31 target date for completion, a local advocacy group finds. Second of three stories on women and the repatriation turmoil.

Rwanda’s post-conflict recovery has a number of impressive signposts.

One is the economy, which grew at an annual rate of about 11 percent last year, according to the country’s national bank.

Another is the political empowerment of its women. In 2008, Rwanda elected the world’s first majority-female parliament and today a woman leads the country’s Supreme Court. One third of the cabinet of President Paul Kagame is female.

Most recently is the April agreement–among Rwanda, Uganda and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees–to target July 31 as a date to repatriate over 30,000 Rwandan refugees in Uganda. It’s a sign that the three authorities consider Rwanda sufficiently stable and prosperous enough to begin closing the country’s post-genocidal chapter.

But Moses Crispus Okello, head of research and advocacy at the Refugee Law Project, a nongovernmental organization in Kampala, finds little consolation is these milestones, particularly not the new repatriation target date.

Okello says repatriation is alarming for refugees and that women have special economic, health and safety concerns.

Most Rwandan refugees live in four large settlement camps in southwestern Uganda. However, others have made lives for themselves in Uganda’s urban centers, such as Kampala.

The repatriation process began in 2003, but was not taken seriously, according to Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister. Now the Office of the Prime Minister has said that transportation to Rwanda will not be guaranteed for refugees who leave after the July 31 target deadline. The U.N. will also begin withdrawing support for Rwandan refugees in the camps in August, according to the Tripartite Agreement, which means a disruption in routines that many refugees have been following for years.

Okello says domestic violence could rise and women will lose financial security as they leave the land they have been farming at the camps, which gave their families a source of income.

During the transition back to Rwanda, they could be particularly vulnerable to high rates of poverty, since many women returning to Rwanda have described difficulty in accessing the land their families left behind, he says.

Another major concern is that Rwandan women–disproportionately vulnerable to HIV in the camps due to sexual violence–might lose access to the free antiretroviral drugs the Ugandan government provides through public hospitals and clinics.

Although Rwanda runs public programs that distribute the drugs free of charge, many women fear that their access to the medication will be interrupted as they move through the transit camps and back to their former homes.

Clarifications Sought on Repatriation Process
The Refugee Law Project recommends that the Ugandan government and U.N. clarify the voluntary nature of the repatriation and inform refugees about alternative options if they are unwilling to return to Rwanda.

Despite the general prevalence of peace in Rwanda–and diplomatic assurances of protection for those returning–individual refugees have legitimate concerns about their safety, the project said in a recent press statement.

It also pressed the U.N. to continue assistance for refugees who decide to stay, particularly since all Rwandan refugees in the camps have been advised to stop farming.

Over 2,800 Rwandan refugees were repatriated as of July 10, according to the country’s Office of the Prime Minister.

But the Refugee Law Project and news reports say that many of those have reversed course and come back to Uganda, citing poverty, loss of their families’ land and fear of being wrongly accused of genocide.

Most of the refugees in the Ugandan camps are Hutu, the ethnic group whose leadership helped plan and execute a genocide that killed between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

“In the past, the Rwandan government has accused the refugees in Uganda of being genocidaires,” said Okello. “Some unscrupulous people also used the courts that were trying genocide suspects to amass property of those who had left Rwanda, linking them to the genocide. When they returned, they would accuse them of genocide in order to possess their land.”

Return should be voluntary, according to Uganda’s 2006 Refugee Act.

Individuals who fear ethnic or political persecution back in Rwanda may appeal their cases to the U.N. and the Refugee Eligibility Committee, based in Kampala, which has representatives from the two countries.

H.E. Kamali Karegasa, Rwanda’s ambassador to Uganda, acknowledges that refugees are fleeing the camps and doing what they can to avoid repatriation.

Press reports describe people posing as refugees from the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo, while others try to bribe local Ugandan officials to pass as Ugandan citizens. According to some reports, up to 20 people a day have been fleeing the Nakivale refugee camp, anticipating the July 31 deadline.

“We are aware of these people, but we are encouraging them to go home,” Karegasa said. “For many who have gone back, they have been welcomed by their communities.”

This is the second of three stories on women and the repatriation turmoil.

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Annual report of Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel sheds light on phenomenon of sexual assault in workplace. Number of complaints on harassment at work rises by 12% in 2008

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel will submit its annual report to the Knesset on Monday morning, this time focusing on a particularly touchy subject – sexual assaults in the workplace.

Last year the number of complaints regarding sexual harassment in the workplace rose by 12%. Reports on workplace harassment reveal that 81% of employees have complained of sexual harassment, 11.4% of them referring to rape and attempted rape, and 7.6% to indecent assaults.

In 2008 support centers received 37,526 complaints (7,793 of them new), compared to 40,518 complaints in 2007. Eleven percent of the complainants reported of sexual harassment in their place of work.

In 70.4% of the cases the attacker was the employer or supervisor, whereas in 14.3% cases it was a friend or an acquaintance. Sixty-three percent of the victims who have approached the centers are under the age of 18. In the passing year the number of complainants who have turned to the police has risen 11%.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Shiluv Millward Brown institute for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel was released ahead of a week marking sexual harassment awareness in the workplace.

The survey reveals that one-third of the Israeli public has been exposed to sexual harassment in their place of work, but many are not aware of the existence of a complaints supervisor.

More than half the public (54%) are not aware that sexual relations between employee and employer are forbidden, while 38% believe that sexual relations are permissible as long as both sides are consenting.

Michal Rosin, CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, says that “the issue of sexual assaults in workplaces has played a major role in the activity of the Association in the past few years.

“From an extensive activity of education departments in workplaces – including the training of executives, employees and sexual assault prevention supervisors – we have learned of a gap between the frequency of the phenomenon and the number of reports and complaints submitted regarding sexual assault in the workplace.

“There is no doubt that the enactment of laws has helped, but there is still a long way ahead before the law is implemented,” she added.

In 2008 the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel held 610 workshops and lectures to executives and employees and approximately 100 sessions as part of courses for sexual assault prevention supervisors at workplaces.,7340,L-3741867,00.html

Governments need to provide social protection and promote green jobs for women through alternative investments that provide decent employment, such as public-private and community-related partnerships, according to representatives from governments, the United Nations, civil society and academia, who met in New York today to discuss how to respond to the impacts of the economic crisis addressing gender issues.

The panel Economic Recovery and Sustainable Development with Gender Equality was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and the Permanent Missions of Australia, Finland and Nicaragua to the UN. It addressed strategies to soften the impact of the economic crisis on women, who are at risk of being hit harder than men. In developing countries, when families can only send one child to school, girls are generally kept home; when families have only limited money and food, girls tend to be fed fewer meals, panelists said.

“There cannot be economic recovery or sustainable development without the full empowerment and integration of women in all levels of economic, social and cultural activities,” said Alberto José Guevara Obregón, Nicaragua’s Minister of Finance and Public Credit.

Panelists also raised concerns about an increased number of girls dropping out of school, higher levels of violence against women and girls, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and HIV and AIDS prevalence rates.

“Violence against women is a serious global problem, and severely limits women’s contribution to social and economic development,” said Gary Quinlan, Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN. “We fear the economic crisis will worsen the problem of violence against women — so tackling violence and investing in women need to be given priority in our response to the crisis.”

Participants also encouraged governments to provide job training and access to finance to women, in addition to promoting green jobs as a means of enabling women to enter male-dominated sectors that offer decent employment. Such jobs relate to women working on climate change adaptation: new and renewable energy sources, energy conservation, disaster prevention and reforestation.

“Women’s contribution and participation are needed in tackling the economic and financial crises. We need to ensure that actions related to economic recovery are inclusive and geared towards more equal societies,” said Jarmo Viinanen, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN.

As more people lose their jobs, salaries and remittances slump, and as the cost of living increases, poor families are at risk of falling deeper into poverty.

“Women are watching. The challenge is to make sure they do not bear the brunt of this crisis, making up for lost income and public services by taking on a greater burden of unpaid care work,” said Ines Alberdi, UNIFEM Executive Director.

“It is always poor women and men who are paying the heaviest price of the bad governance and greed that has led to the ongoing economic and financial crisis,” said Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Director of UNDP’s Democratic Governance Group. “This crisis presents an opportunity that we cannot fail to seize in creating decent jobs, social safety nets, and a space where poor women and men can become victors and agents of change in the transformation of the current financial architecture.”

The time is now for all partners in human development to live up to their commitments to the poorest and most vulnerable in order to ensure that the global crisis of today does not hamper the development prospects of tomorrow.

A tally by the National Statistical Office shows the number of employed men stood at 13.40 million in January, down 19,000 compared to a year ago, while the number of employed women stood at 9.46 million, down 84,000 over the same period. This means that 82 percent of the jobs lost over the past year were held by women.

Among women who lost their jobs, those in their twenties and thirties were hit hardest. A total of 98,000 women between 20 to 29 years-of-age lost their jobs over the past year, while 87,000 women between 30 and 39 became unemployed. Overall, a total of 185,000 women in those age groups became jobless. A total of 25,000 women between 15 to 19 years-of- age lost their jobs, while those between 40 and 49 fared better with no jobs lost. What’s interesting is that 110,000 women between the ages of 50 to 59 found jobs. Young women, who are raising children yet supposedly experiencing the most productive years of their careers, have experienced most job losses. In contrast, there has been a rise in the number of older women who have sent their children off to college and once again entered the job market.

As economic slowdown intensifies, a growing number of companies are considering female employees for layoffs first. In particular, pregnant women are being forced to take long-term maternity leaves, which are often tantamount to being made redundant, while in a number of cases female workers are being targeted for early retirement. The number of women on maternity leave applying for child support payments from the government has risen from 21,185 in 2007 to 29,145 last year, up 37.5 percent.

Women facing the greatest threat of layoffs are temporary workers with very few work benefits. In Korea, 42.1 percent of employed women are temporary workers. That’s higher than the ratio for men, which is 31 percent. Temporary female workers are often employed as clerical assistants, saleswomen or cashiers in small stores or restaurants, sometimes doing menial labor as cleaners and washers. On average, their salaries are only 61 percent of their male equivalents, putting Korea in last place among the member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development when it comes to wage differences between genders. Women who have been eking out a living in marginal jobs are becoming the first to be thrown out.

It is hypocritical to see businesses pressuring pregnant women and those on temporary contracts to leave, while those same businesses say they are voluntarily slashing salaries so they can hire more workers to help the economy. Sunday marks the 101st International Women’s Day. It is simply cowardly and embarrassing for our society to go around calling for gender equality, while picking out women first for layoffs as the economic crisis worsens.

Eighty Ethiopian women have been in Tripoli Women’s Prison in north Lebanon for over a year, accused of not having a passport which was either taken from them when they started as domestic workers, or which they never had in the first place.

Most were arrested on the street after running away from their employers – usually because of abuses ranging from forced confinement and starvation to physical harm and rape. Some had fled after being accused of stealing.

Having broken their work contracts, which guarantee them a flight home on completion of two years work, and with no passports, the girls are in limbo.

“The reason these women continue to sit in detention is because the employer doesn’t want to pay for the girl’s ticket home, General Security [Lebanese intelligence agency] doesn’t have the money, and often their embassies are unaware of their detention,” said Roula Masri, coordinator for the Collective for Research and Training on Development Action, an NGO campaigning for workers’ rights.

Kholoud, from Sudan, has been in Lebanon for 18 years. She came with her husband and two children to escape conflict and unemployment. But when her husband was deported, she said, he took all the family’s official papers with him. “Now I can’t prove that I am Sudanese to obtain a new passport… so I am stuck here.”

She struggles to pay US$110 a month for a one-room apartment with no kitchen, refrigerator or running water, and relies on donations from friends to pay for her children’s education.

Rights groups say an estimated 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon – most of them women from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia – are not protected by labour laws. [see:

Last month, after a two-year effort by rights groups working with the ministries of labour and justice as well as General Security, the authorities promised to enact a new unified contract for migrant domestic workers that would improve their working conditions.

For the first time, workers will be able to read the same contract as their employer in their own language. Work terms have been extended from two to three years and the contract states the women should only work 10 hours a day for six days a week and are entitled to eight hours of continuous rest. Salaries, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported can often be withheld as punishment, must now be paid and signed for each month.

The employer, however, will still have the right to break the contract for whatever reason, which means the worker is then responsible for paying for her ticket home or repaying any debts owed. Workers will still not be guaranteed the right to retain their passports.

Despite this move, activists say a change in the law is needed to ensure the new contracts and the work of placement agencies are regulated.

“Experiences in other countries, such as Jordan, which already have a unified employment contract and a minimum salary for domestic workers, show that a contract is not sufficient in itself and that a law protecting these workers is needed,” said HRW senior researcher in Lebanon, Nadim Houry.

In February, eyewitnesses reported seeing a domestic worker fall from a sixth-floor balcony to her death in Beirut’s central Hamra district. HRW says domestic workers are dying at the rate of more than one per week in Lebanon, most through suicide or in risky attempts to escape.

Father Adrian, a Catholic priest in Musina, a South African town on the border with Zimbabwe, established a shelter for women and children fleeing, first, the violence, and then the socio-economic conditions in Zimbabwe.

Conditions in the shelter in the old Catholic church in Nancefield, a Musina township, are basic, but the Church provides meals to the about 100 or more people who bed down each night.

The women and their children are given temporary shelter while they apply for asylum seeker permits giving them temporary legal status. This usually takes about three days but can take longer, depending on the efficiency of the Department of Home Affairs. Father Adrian told IRIN about the shelter.

“The whole thing started soon after the [March 2008] elections when [Robert] Mugabe lost the presidential elections and ZANU-PF [the ruling party] lost the parliamentary elections, and he [Mugabe] then mobilized the so-called ‘war veterans’ straight away to intimidate the people and they simply started pouring across the border.

“They have terrible stories to tell, both of brutality and all the rest. One woman came to us after they had burned her husband and burned her house – she literally had to run from the graveyard to get away. Other people have different stories to tell, but people maybe arrive here with a little knapsack.

“The church shelter is for the women and children. There is a shelter to accommodate men elsewhere because the sexual abuse is something shocking.

“I believe at the [Musina] showgrounds [where as many as 5,000 people were sleeping while waiting to apply for asylum seekers permits until the authorities closed it] men walked up to women and said, ‘You are my wife tonight’, and the women had no choice but to go with them. There are a lot of things like that.

“We are able to provide nutrition for the young children, some of who have been born here. We started this food parcel scheme in mid-April, or so, in 2008.

“It started at one day a week and we very quickly had to change to five days a week. There were 30, then 40, then 50 – the number kept increasing and by mid-July the numbers were at about 100 a day.

“Finally, towards the end of last year, there were 300 people queuing up and we had food parcels for about 270 people, and then began to divide up the food parcels to share the food out, and that is the way things have been going.

“When people leave here after they have received their documentation, they go south to Johannesburg and Pretoria generally.”

Emanuela Heyninck, pay equity commissioner of Ontario, speaks out against a threatened erosion of wage rights for Canadian women in traditionally female occupations.

Canadians have President Barack Obama to thank for raising awareness about equal pay and gender wage discrimination.

By passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act early in his administration, Obama extended the period during which an employee may file pay discrimination claims. That should strengthen the anti-discrimination provisions of the Equal Pay Act, which says female workers should be paid the same as male workers for the same work.

In Canada, we have a different wage-justice standard. It’s called pay equity, which is equal pay for work of equal value. Pay equity recognizes that women and men tend to work at different jobs, and that women’s work has historically been undervalued.

However, it is worrisome that Canada’s support for pay equity may be eroding with the introduction of a recent law, just as the United States is doing more for equal pay.

Ontario’s Pay Equity Act, passed in 1987, goes far beyond laws such as the Equal Pay Act in many ways.

It requires that jobs traditionally done by women, such as secretaries, be evaluated and compared to jobs usually done by men, such as service technicians, using a gender-neutral comparison system. If the value of the secretary and the service technician job classes are about the same, the jobs must be paid the same.

There is no federal pay equity law in the United States even though all developed countries are signatories to pay-equity conventions that, since the 1950s, have called it a human right. Gender-equity advocates in the United States are beginning to raise the banner of pay-equity.

But here in Canada, the federal government may be weakening its commitment to female wages with its recent law to “modernize” pay equity for public sector employees.

Several key aspects and mechanisms of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act–part of the government’s 2009 budget implementation bill–fuel our concern.

First, the act never uses the words “pay equity” nor does it talk about systemic discrimination. Instead, it refers to an unknown and undefined concept of “equitable compensation.”

Second, pay equity works by comparing the value of female dominant jobs to male dominant jobs — yet there is no definition of male dominant jobs in the proposed act.

Finally, the bill introduces “market forces” as a basis for job assessment.

From an anti-discrimination point of view, this is not good news. Market forces have tended to undervalue women’s labor force activities. Gender segregation of women in “pink” collar jobs, and the arrangement of paid employment and care-giving work–inside and outside of the market–contribute to this undervaluation. Introducing market forces may reinforce rather than challenge gender-based inequalities that arose from the market in the first place.

Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of one of the most progressive laws on pay equity in the country.

Our law covers all public employers and all private employers with more than 10 employees. In other provinces, only the public sector is covered, or non-legislative approaches are applied. The exception is Quebec, where the pay equity legislation is similar to that of Ontario.

Our office investigates and resolves complaints of alleged contraventions and we routinely monitor businesses for compliance. We also conduct free seminars and provide extensive educational materials for employers, unions and employees. Quebec provides similar functions.

Hopefully, the government’s “modernization” law won’t turn the clocks back on all of this.

Emanuela Heyninck is Ontario’s Pay Equity Commissioner.

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See also: US Unions Get Family Friendly Online Advice
As union members face growing financial stress, some expect contract negotiators to intensify the push for family-friendly benefits. A Web site launched earlier this month is there to help. …

As the economic crisis continues to worsen, with capitalism unable to stop the spiral towards a global depression that will plunge millions into poverty, women will experience the negative consequences more rapidly and with more severity. While the ruling class — owners of banks, corporations and also governments — search for ways to make workers pay rather than pay with their own profits, women are among the oppressed groups who make the easiest, and therefore primary, target for cutbacks.

In Australia, the cutbacks at the expense of women are only just beginning to come to light. It is now likely that the May federal budget will lack the maternity leave scheme that has been demanded by women and community groups for years. Access to paid maternity leave would mean greater financial independence for women, but is a right that is currently denied to more than half of Australia’s women workers.

An OECD study in 2000 showed that many women who take time off work to raise children remain financially disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. Holding the economic crisis up as a shield, Rudd has swiftly backed away from his statement late last year that the government would implement a universal paid parental leave scheme.

The Australian Trades and Labour Council has also retreated on the issue, hiding behind the economic crisis and suggesting a “compromise” position of phasing in a scheme over a number of years to avoid “sending the budget into deeper deficit”, according to the March 3 Australian.

Ideally, fully funded child care would be an alternative. However, the economic crisis is increasingly being used in government back-pedalling and child care suffered one of the first blows of the crisis. Privately owned super-monopoly, ABC Learning Centres, went into voluntary receivership in November last year, displacing thousands of children. The option now, women will be told, is to take responsibility for child care within the home, at the expense of their working lives.

Unemployment and increasing conditions of poverty will also come down hard on women. Globally, the International Labour Organisation has projected an unemployment rate between 6.3% and 7.1%. Yet the global unemployment rate for women is expected to reach 7.4% (compared to 7% for men) or 22 million women worldwide.

In Australia, ABN chief economist Amro Kieran Davies expects unemployment to climb to 8% by the end of the year. For women — who comprise the majority of low-wage, casual earners with less social protection — the deteriorating economy will mean the disproportionate effect of unemployment soon becomes a reality.

These trends are running parallel with both covert and explicit attacks on women’s rights in the workplace. Howard’s Work Choices and now Rudd’s Fair Work Act — “Work Choices-lite” — mean that women have even less ability to organise for their rights as workers. The pay gap between men and women — where, over a lifetime, women will earn 77 cents of the male dollar — will inevitably increase, as wages and conditions are now harder to fight for. All of these conditions, as they grow worse, will compound into a situation that progressive women and feminists have been fighting against for decades: financial dependency and women becoming trapped in their circumstances. “Women’s lower employment rates, weaker control over property and resources, concentration in informal and vulnerable forms of employment with lower earnings, and less social protection, all place women in a weaker position than men to weather crises”, ILO Bureau for Gender Equality director Jane Hodges said in March.

The reality, she said, is that “women may cope by engaging in working longer hours or by taking multiple low-income jobs but still having to maintain unpaid care commitments”. This is just what happened throughout the Great Depression.

During the Great Depression, women’s workload actually increased. The continuing mantra of “making ends meet” and also “keeping up the family morale” as hard times hit became a burden that rested mostly on women. When the depression plunged one-third of Australian men into unemployment, women were called upon to work harder — as homemakers, guardians and protectors of the family.

The result was a profound strengthening in the ideology of the family and suppression of any chance for women to take advantage of the economic turmoil and see the crisis of the system as a chance to make more permanent change. Now, the same thing is happening. Government leaders and media have already begun to churn through the values and cultural leverage that pressures women into the home. The same thing can be seen universally across the sections of Australia fearing the effects of the crisis: rather than radicalising and seeking to seriously challenge the system, people are being told to put their heads down and “work through the crisis”, putting the burden largely on women to implement this strategy.

Because the system is sexist, when the system begins to fail it is women who will suffer the most. When capitalism needs to cut back, it first hacks away at the victories and gains of mass progressive movements — the attacks on workers is a key example. The wins of second-wave feminism are under attack and will be the first to go. If there is no movement against this, it will continue, driving women further backwards than we can afford.

Women workers in Third World countries are being hit hardest by the global recession, according to research released by Oxfam ahead of the G20 summit in London on Thursday 2 April.

Female employees tend to be the first laid off as bosses make job cuts, the charity says, and because of their lower status in certain societies are sometimes forced by employers to sign redundancy agreements to avoid severance pay.

Research in 10 countries in Asia and South America showed women often work in the most insecure jobs and many are migrants from rural families depending on their wage.

In Asia sex traffickers were found to be approaching women who had lost their jobs asking if they wanted to go to work in the West.

Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking said: “Women in poor countries have been taking risks and working impossibly hard to provide for their families. They were already struggling to make ends meet. Now their lives, and those of their children, have become even harder. It’s not fair that women in poverty are paying the price for the rich world’s mistakes.”

She added: “It is hard enough for women in the UK who are losing their jobs but at least get some help from the government and from friends and family. In poor countries, there is often no unemployment benefit, and people are more likely to have nothing to fall back on. The G20 must help.”

The charity says the denial of basic working rights is increasing.

It quoted Xiao Hong from an unnamed factory in China as saying: “Now one person has to do three people’s work for the same wages and the employer is piling on the pressure – any small mistake is an excuse for dismissal. In this way it does not have to pay compensation and severance.”

Another example given was Ruth Cerna from El Salvador, who was one of 1,700 workers laid off in November when a factory closed.

She said: “Many women were pregnant, many are ill and are left with nothing. It’s been three months since the factory closed and we haven’t been paid anything.”

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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