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Resource: How Women are Being Impacted by the Crisis: 10 Things You Should Know

In 2010, Influencing Development Actors and Practices for Women’s Rights (IDeA), a strategic initiative of AWID, has been conducting regional analyses of the impact of the global systemic global crisis on women. Here are 10 things you should know about how women are being impacted by the crisis across regions.

1. This is not merely a financial and economic crisis, but a systemic crisis.

The present financial crisis and economic recession are intertwined with and exacerbate existing crises of food, energy, water, the environment, work and care.

Neo-liberal economic policies have failed to deliver for the large majority of the world’s population. Advances in eradicating hunger and reducing poverty have slowed or reversed, and the meagre development gains of the last decade are under threat [1]. Between 73 and 103 million more people will remain poor and fall into poverty as a result of the crisis, compromising the human rights of entire communities and populations [2].

2. The crisis compromises women’s human rights.

Due to structural inequalities, women – particularly poor and marginalized women, including rural and indigenous women, migrant women, sex workers, LGBT individuals and women that are HIV/AIDS positive – will see their human rights further compromised due to the crisis [3].

For example, when national budgets tighten, spending on provisions such as education is likely to drop. As poor families are forced to put their children to work inside or outside the home, many children, particularly girls, from the poorest households will be pulled from school or not sent at all [4]. These actions compromise the right to education and lead to lower future income-earning potential, persistent poverty [5] and an elevated work burden for women through increased care responsibilities.

3. Women workers are disproportionately affected by the crisis’ impact on employment and livelihoods.

Comprising 60-80% of the workforce in the export manufacturing industry, women are the primary labor source for heavily-hit industries: clothes, electronics, domestic production and services [6].

The crisis has severely compromised the decent work agenda, pushing millions into unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment. The number of unemployed globally is expected to increase by between 24 and 44 million in 2009. Unemployment in Asia-Pacific, for example, alone is likely to increase by between 3.2 and 14.5 million workers between 2007 and 2009 [7], with the greatest employment impact in the female-dominated export-manufacturing sector [8]. Even for those women who manage to keep a job, earnings and other employment conditions will deteriorate [9], particularly for migrant women.

4. The care crisis deepens as further cuts in public expenditure occur.

Over the past 25 years, the burden of care has shifted from public provisions to private households and specifically to women’s shoulders. When crises occur, women perform an increasingly disproportionate share of unpaid social reproduction work.

As states increasingly defer the costs of care to families and individuals to balance their budgets, women absorb the costs of care through unpaid care work [10]. While critical to the development of society and the labor force, unpaid work remains invisible in macroeconomic policy and discussions as well as in the majority of responses to crises.

5. The economic and financial crisis – coupled with the existing food crisis –has eroded the right to food

1.02 billion people – almost all of whom live in developing countries – do not have enough to eat. In 2006, 60% of those who suffered from chronic hunger were women, and more women will go hungry as the crisis deepens [11].

An increasing number of the world’s people, particularly those in rural and marginalized urban areas have lessening access to food, health and education. In addition to declining incomes, the poor are met with exorbitant prices for food and agricultural inputs. Women’s involvement in producing, distributing, purchasing and cooking food places them at the frontline of the food crisis.

6. Migrants face challenges to finding and maintaining decent work

Women make up at least 50% of the migrant workers from Africa and Latin America. And women are nearly 80% of the migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia [12].

Economic downturn and increased competition in many places, including Western Europe, for example, has increased the difficulty of migrants finding work, particularly in the formal sector [13].

In crises, as work diminishes, migrants – and particularly women migrants – face deteriorating, increasingly precarious work conditions. Concomitantly, xenophobia has risen in certain areas, posing a serious risk to migrants’ safety. Migration as a coping strategy for poverty alleviation has, as a result, become less feasible [14].

7. Women are not only impacted as migrant workers, but as recipients of remittances also.

Remittance flows, which comprise a significant portion of some developing countries’ GDP, have fallen in the majority of the world, lowering household incomes and threatening already fragile livelihoods of poor people.

Remittance flows are estimated to decrease by more than 6% globally [15], lowering overall household income and threatening livelihoods [16]. Combined with rising prices, many women and their families face not only reductions in food consumption, but also shortfalls in spending on a range of consumer items, education and health. Tonga is an example where remittances comprise roughly 38% of GDP. There, as remittances fall, the lack of income for many families – especially in rural areas – compounds stresses for women [17].

8. Violence against women has increased as a result of the crisis.

In times of hardship, women and girls are exposed to a greater risk of violence as a result of the frustrations and despair affecting families and communities [18]. Alma Espino and Norma Sanchís note that, in Latin America, in addition to the financial costs of an economic crisis, other, less visible, costs – such as stress and in domestic violence – are incurred [19].

As violence against women increases, women’s livelihoods, rights and ability to participate fully and equally in society are threatened. However, despite the growing recognition that violence against women is a violation of human rights, violence remains an unjustifiably low priority on the international development agenda.

9. Responses to the crisis have been inadequate and have failed to promote human rights for all.

The world’s poorest countries are unable to protect their citizens from the crisis, with an estimated 43 out of 48 low-income countries incapable of providing a pro-poor government stimulus [20]. When responses to the crisis have been implemented they have, on the whole, failed to incorporate a gender equality or human rights perspective.

The majority of governments have not responded to the crisis in a holistic manner, focusing instead on simply addressing the symptoms of the crisis. The underlying causes remain unaddressed. In addition, in most regions of the world dependent on foreign aid, the ability to engage in expansionary fiscal policy has been severely constrained by the lack of resources and/or the continuing explicit or implicit conditionality of international sources of funds [21].

Moreover, current responses to the crisis – including economic stimulus packages and job creation measures – have failed to account for the gender differentiated impacts of the crisis and, as a result, have further perpetuating the exclusion of marginalized groups.

10. The failure of the neo-liberal model presents an opportunity for advancing an alternative vision of development grounded in human rights.

Women are not simply passive subjects of macroeconomic policies; they are political and development actors in their own right and should, therefore, be substantively involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of macroeconomic policies.

Women’s rights groups – and other civil society organizations – have been advocating for a more inclusive, accountable and democratic international system. A human rights based approach to the crisis offers a holistic and universally recognized framework for guidance in the design and implementation of economic, financial and other policies to address the crisis.

To read the full report, click here.


[1] UN News Centre (2009) “Economic and food crises threaten recent development gains – UN report,” 6 July 2009.

[2] UN (2009) “World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009: update as of mid-2009,” United Nations: New York.

[3] Seguino, Stephanie (2009) “The Global Economic Crisis, Its Gender Implications, and Policy Responses,” Paper prepared for Gender Perspectives on the Financial Crisis Panel at the Fifty-Third Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, United Nations, 7 March 2009.

[4] United Nations (2009) “Report of the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty,” by Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, 11 August 2009, A/64/279.

[5] ibid.

[6] Grown, Caren (2009) “Gender Dimensions of the Economic/Financial Crisis,”

[7] International Labour Organization (2010) “Global Employment Trends,” p.56.

[8] UN ESCAP (2009) “Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2009: Addressing Triple Threats to Development,” p. 13.

[9] International Labour Organization (2010) “Global Employment Trends 2010,” January 2010, Geneva: ILO, p.47.

[10] Bakker, I. (2009) “The Global Financial Crisis and Care: Context and Gender Aware Responses,” in WIDE, Report of the WIDE Annual Conference 2009, WE CARE! Feminist responses to the care crises, 18–20 June 2009, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

[11] Food and Agriculture Organization (2009) “1.02 billion people hungry: One sixth of humanity undernourished – more than ever before,” FAO Media Centre, 16 June 2009.

[12] Alberdi, I. (2009) “The World Economic and Financial Crisis: What Will It Mean for Gender Equality?” Speech given at the Fifth Annual Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament, Vienna, Austria, 13 July 2009.

[13] AWID (2009) “The impact of the crisis on women in Central and Eastern Europe,” by Ewa Charkiewicz, p.3.

[14] ibid.

[15] World Bank (2009), “Migration and Development Brief 11,” World Bank, Washington, D.C., United States.

[16] Food and Agriculture Organization (2009) “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009: Economic Crises – impacts and lessons learned,” Rome, Italy.

[17] World Bank (2009), “Migration and Development Brief 11”

[18] Pillay, N. (2009) “Statement to mark International Women’s Day,” 6 March 2009, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland.

[19] AWID (2009) “Latin America: Social and Gender Impacts of the Economic Crisis,” by Alma Espino & Norma Sanchís, p. 12.

[20] UN News Centre (2009) “Financial crisis to deepen extreme poverty, increase child mortality rates,” 3 March 2009, available at

[21] See AWID (2009) “The impact of the crisis on women in developing Asia,” by Jayati Ghosh.

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