Working women in front line of slowdown

Written by Reuters | Bangkok | Updated: Aug 1 2009, 05:06am hrs
When a major swimwear factory in Bangkok found its sales plummeting in the downturn, it laid off some 1,900 workers, almost all of them women.

That didnt surprise labor activists who say women are the most vulnerable workers in recessions, especially in low wage industries in developing countries where gender equality lags. Even before the crisis, there were differences in the labor market situation between women and men, said Gyorgy Sziraczki, a senior economist at the International Labor Organizations Asia- Pacific headquarters.

Fewer women are working then men, and women also have a much larger share of vulnerable employment. The crisis to a certain extent has widened the gap.

Garment worker Chalad Chaisaeng is a case in point. After working for 15 years at the Bangkok swimwear factory, she is struggling to support her two children, ill husband and parents with her severance pay of around 110,000 baht (around $3,300).

I did not expect the company to do this. I am a good worker, said Chaisaeng.

Millions of female workers across the region will face Chaisaengs plight, according to economists and activists who say women, especially those in low-skilled contract and temporary employment, are particularly susceptible to the downturn.

The latest figures for Asia by the International Labor Organization (ILO) project a 5.7% rise in unemployed women in 2009, compared to 4.9% for men.

Lucia Victor Jayaseelan of Committee for Asian Women, a Bangkok-based network of over 40 womens groups in 14 Asian countries, said women will form the majority of the up to 27 million expected to lose their jobs in the Asia-Pacific

in 2009.