As a result of the 1997 financial crisis, 95% of those workers laid off from the garment sector were women and 88% of those who lost their jobs in the toy sector. Women are disproportionately affected by such a crisis (including the current one) because, as Amelita King Dejardin of the ILO pointed out, women are more likely to be concentrated in the manufacturing jobs feeding the export industries and to be at lower levels in those factories. They are more likely to be sub-contractors or temporary or casual workers than men and, hence, usually the first to be laid off in bad conditions.
As she points out: “The consequence of losing a job also affects women differently and more severely. Research shows that the poorer the family the more important the woman’s earnings are to the family’s subsistence, children’s health and education. And because women workers in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam – among other countries – are concentrated in lower paid jobs they tend to save less; so a small pay cut or price rise can severely damage them and their dependants.”
Of course, there are some occasions or sectors in which women are better treated than men, which means that it is important to consider the impact of gender issues in addition to all other perspectives. In 1997, for example, women were not included in the social dialogue and the jobs that were created, through investment in infrastructure, tended to be more likely to go to men than women. Consequently, as she observes: “… the concept of what are public works should be expanded to incorporate social services, healthcare, education, child and youth development. Recruitment strategies must be created to reach women. Child care facilities must be included. Initiatives specially targeting unemployed women are needed. Economic and fiscal stimulus packages must include support for microfinance –which has been extremely effective in helping women start small businesses.”
So far, the current government seems to be no more alert to what is required than the incompetent Chuan Leekphai administration that was in power in 1997. However, there is still time for Abhisit to do something useful.