The current global economic meltdown will hit women harder. The ranks of unemployed women could swell by up to 22 million, this year, says the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In its annual Global Employment Trends for Women report (GET) released Thursday, the UN agency noted that the jobs crisis is expected to worsen sharply with the deepening of the recession in 2009.
The spiraling crisis would place new hurdles in the path toward sustainable and socially equitable growth making decent work for women increasingly more difficult, the ILO feels and has called for "creative solutions" to address the gender gap.
The ILO issued the Global Employment Trends for Women in the run up to this year's annual International Women's Day, which is marked on 6 March at the ILO in Geneva.
The Global Employment Trends report indicates that of the 3 billion people employed around the world in 2008, 1.2 billion were women (40.4 per cent). It said that in 2009, the global unemployment rate for women could reach 7.4 per cent, compared to 7.0 per cent for men.
The report says that the gender impact of the economic crisis in terms of unemployment rates is expected to be more detrimental for females than for males in most regions of the world and most clearly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It adds that the only regions where unemployment rates are expected to be less detrimental for women are East Asia, the developed economies and the non- EU South Eastern Europe and CIS which had narrower gender gaps in terms of job opportunities prior to the current economic crisis.
The labour market projections for 2009 show deterioration in global labour markets for both women and men. The ILO projects that the global unemployment rate could reach between 6.3 per cent and 7.1 per cent, with a corresponding female unemployment rate ranging from 6.5 to 7.4 per cent (compared to 6.1 per cent to 7.0 per cent for men). This would result in an increase of between 24 million and 52 million people unemployed worldwide, of which from 10 million to 22 million would be women.
At the same time, the ILO also projects that the global vulnerable employment rate would range from 50.5 to 54.7 per cent for women in 2009, and 47.2 and 51.8 per cent for men, indicating that while the burden of vulnerability is still greater for women, the crisis is pushing more men into vulnerable employment compared to 2007.
"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", said ILO Bureau for Gender Equality Director Jane Hodges, adding 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".
ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said that gender equality should be a key principle in any policy response, as the effects of the economic and financial crisis go beyond the scope of women in the world of work and have an impact on the overall stability of society, considering the various roles that women play.
In a statement issued for International Women's Day, Mr. Somavia said, "Gender inequality in the world of work has long been with us but it is likely that it will be exacerbated by the crisis. In times of economic upheaval, women often experience the negative consequences more rapidly and are slower to enjoy the benefits of recovery. And already before the crisis, the majority of working women were in the informal economy with lower earnings and less social protection".
Mr. Somavia cited a number of policy measures that could help rebalance the burden placed on women and address the impact of globalization, such as sustainable and quality jobs open to both men and women, broader social protection including unemployment benefits and insurance schemes that recognize women's vulnerable position in the labour market, and social dialogue with the active inclusion of women in decision-making processes.