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Dramatic Setback for Equality in the World

©©UNICEF/ HQ06-1348/Claudio Versiani
BRAZIL: Girls and boys play in a daycare centre in Bairro da Paz, a slum area on the outskirts of Salvador, capital of the eastern state of Bahia.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, 6th March 2009 - Sida's Director General Anders Nordström presents a new analysis of the effects of the financial crisis: Swedish companies must help to save women living in poverty in the world. After a certain time delay, the financial crisis is now hitting the world's impoverished nations. Those particularly affected are poverty stricken women. A new analysis of the situation that Sida has conducted together with researchers from Stockholm University shows why women living in poverty are at risk of becoming the crisis' biggest losers: Less girls are permitted to attend school; Female dominated professions like, for example, the textile industry risk being affected particularly hard; more women are forced into prostitution; and violence against women tends to increase in times of crisis. Therefore, the financial and economic crisis entails a substantial setback for equality in the world. The private sector in Sweden must now play its part and, together with Sida, work for women living in poverty around the world, writes Sida's Director General Anders Nordström in Dagens Nyheter.

The financial and economic crisis is hitting hard, albeit differently, against men and women, and it risks giving rise to setbacks in the fight for gender equality in the world. In connection to the International Women's Day on Sunday, Sida is launching an initiative to increase women's economic empowerment in developing countries.

Over the next few years, Sida will be actively raising the question of women's economic empowerment and increasing the support to this area in our partner countries. We will intensify the global influence work together with other international bodies. Particular focus will be placed on the bigger players, for example the World Bank.

The financial crisis has up to now affected the USA and Western Europe worst. But we can already see signs of having big effects in Asia, and after a certain time delay, the economic crisis is heading towards negative effects even in Africa and Latin America.

Today, Sida is holding an international seminar together with the professor and development economist, Naila Kabeer, with the title "The financial crisis and women's economic empowerment" which shows how the effects of the financial and economic crisis seriously risk affecting women's possibilities for influencing their own economic situations.

In relation to this, Sida is presenting a current research compilation and analysis which has been done in cooperation with researchers at Stockholm University. This analysis shows how the crisis risks affecting women in developing countries within seven identified areas.

Employment in industry is disappearing. Many work opportunities in developing countries have been created in industries where production is labour intensive and aimed at export. These have made use of easy access to low paid, female labour forces.
The financial crisis leads to weakened economies and weakened purchasing power, first in the western world, and then later in developing countries also. This meansa decrese in demand for many consumer goods such as textiles, shoes and electronics. Because these goods are in mainly manufactured in developing countries where women represent a large proportion of the labour force, it also impacts women's employment negatively.

An ever higher unemployment rate does not just affect those women who work in industry, but also the many women who work in the informal economy. The informal economy employs the majority of the world's people living in poverty - and in particular women in developing countries.

Work is lost in the export oriented farming sector. Women in developing countries often work within this sector producing, for example, cut flowers, vegetables and fruit.

These women can be employed in larger companies, but they can also work on the family farm where the husband has entered into a contract with a larger company as a subcontractor. Just as within industry, the financial crisis forces these companies to limit or close their operations because they cannot pay their loans, and the demand for the products decreases, which in turn leads to many women losing their work and incomes.

Harder to secure loans - For women living in poverty the possibility to get access to micro credits has been significant during the past three decades. Micro credits are given to farmers and others who are self employed but lack access to financial services from larger etstablished banks. By accessing micro credit loans they can start a commercial activity and thereby increase their incomes. Women living in poverty make up the largest client group among micro credit institutions.

Because of the financial crisis, there is a big risk that the number of these loans will reduce drastically which in turn, will affect access to financial services. As a result, their ability to support themselves is threatened.

Increased un-paid household and care work - The financial crisis affects state budgets in a negative way and often entails cut backs in the public sector. This can lead to more un-paid household and care work which is often carried out by women, the consequence being that they have less time for paid work.

Less girls attending school - There is a big risk that increased work in the household, in combination with lower incomes, will result in families not being able to afford and not having the possibility to let or prioritize girls to attend school. The girls must help their mother with the work in the household or help with securing a livelihood in other ways. Once girls have left school, they rarely go back. This has lifelong negative effects on their possibilities to find employment and receive an income on which to support themselves, which in turn reproduces the lack of equality.

Increased prostitution and trafficking - The financial crisis, reduced employment and increased unemployment can lead to the most vulnerable women being forced into prostitution so as to be able to earn a living for themselves and their families. Families can even be forced to sell their daughters to brothels if they cannot find any other alternative to establishing a way of earning a living.

More violence against women - In a financial and economic crisis, stress and conflicts increase as a result of reduced resources. Experience shows that women often try to relieve the effects of the economic crisis also in relation to the husband's unemployment and economic problems. At the same time, research suggests that it is not unusual for men to take out their own frustrations over the difficult situation by turning violent against wives and other female relatives.

If women have a stable source of earning a living, they are not affected to such a wide extent by the financial crisis. But a significant proportion of the world's women already live in poverty. They lack choice, power and material resources where traditional gender roles and norms stand in the way of their development. The consequences are often negative and sometimes decisive for girls and women. Even men are affected negatively by these traditional gender roles. An unemployed man is deemed to be less manly if he carries out tasks which are believed to be "women's tasks" (like children and the home).

Equal economic opportunities are crucial if a women's subordinate position is to be broken. Equal possibility for women and men to own land and assets, earn money and participate in professional life is absolutely necessary for sustainable economic and democratic development.

Sida has worked for many years to clear obstacles which exist for women and girls to participate on equal terms in society, regardless of whether the obstacles have depended on social norms, religious values or a lack of legislation with regard to equality. Through Sida, Sweden has supported many efforts in developing countries, which has in different ways strengthened the position of women.

But the number of examples of success must rise. Women's control over their own lives must increase. Therefore, Sida now wishes to invite the civil society and the private sector in our partner countries and in Sweden to work together to increase women's economic empowerment. Through transfer of knowledge, qualitative cooperation and better coordination, we can ease the effects of the crisis, increase equality and contribute towards a sustainable global development which favours everyone.

In Burkina Faso for example, Sweden supports the National Democratic Institute with the aim of strengthening and increasing women's political participation and in decentralisation processes. The results show important victories for women. For example, 556 women were nominated by their parties and stood as candidates in the last election. Furthermore, 17 women took seats in the parliament after the election, which was an increase of 30 per cent.

In Zambia, a small companies development support project for farmers has resulted in 44 000 households having improved economic situations. The effort engaged all members of the households which resulted in both increased efficiency and increased equality. The support has resulted in women's access to, and control over, resources and household incomes increasing markedly, including women's participation in decision taking. The work load within the households has also changed as a result and is now shared more equally.


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