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In Asia, Women Workers Hit Hard by Economic Slump


Across Asia women are bearing the brunt of the global economic downturn as export manufacturers shed workers. The United Nation's International Labor Organization and labor rights groups say Asian governments need to boost social protection programs for women and workers vulnerable to the global recession.

Asia's export-driven growth over the past 30 years has drawn millions of women into the work force, making consumer goods for the world. The work lifted families out of poverty and gave women greater independence and opportunities.

Now the global economic downturn means tens of thousands of women are losing their jobs, as slow demand forces factories making everything from clothes to electronics to shut down.

Kee Beom Kim, an economist with the United Nation's International Labour Organization, says women in export industries the region are especially vulnerable to the current economic climate. Kim says the consequences are wide ranging.

"They have lost their jobs and without a job, in some cases for those who are poor - their food consumption decreases, their health consumption; we see that children are being withdrawn from school," said Kim. "In the garment industries reduced working hours basically means less take home pay - of course a detrimental effect on consumption."

China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia are some of the countries where exports account for a large proportion of national output. A slowdown in foreign investment and a decline in remittances from overseas workers worsen the poor economic climate for women workers.

The ILO warns that unemployment across the Asia-Pacific region could rise by over 25 million this year, to more than 110 million across the region.

United Nations data show the region accounts for around two-thirds of the world's total employment. China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Bangladesh, Japan and Pakistan make up the bulk of that work force.

Lucia Victor Jayaseelan, executive coordinator with the Committee for Asian Women, says in Cambodia she recently met women from the hard-hit garment industry, who face uncertain futures.

"They were working without pay because they couldn't go home," said Jayaseelan. "And they were so used to working and hoping and believing that the industries, the factories would be giving them some money at some point. Three months no salary; which meant they had to live, pay their rent, school for their children, remit money back to rural areas - all that went."

The ILO and labor rights workers are calling on regional governments to boost social protection programs, especially those that can help women laid off from work. They also say government economic stimulus packages need to focus on building up rural infrastructure that would most benefit women and children.

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