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    The gender perspective: Women's clout - A way out


    International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2009

    To achieve a 'return on investment', one must invest in that which will actually provide a return. As quoted by OECD, women reinvest 90% of their income in their families and communities, compared with 30%-40% invested by men. Investing in women is an investment in current and future generations. This is why we need a carefully crafted response to the global financial crisis, which threatens to plunge a further 22 million women into unemployment, according to a recent report by the International Labour Organization.

    Investment in 'more aid' or 'infrastructure' is an inadequate response, as these do not automatically benefit women. As Mari Pangestu, Indonesian Minister for Trade, speaking at a meeting of the World Economic Forum, explains: 'Empirically, in the Indonesian experience, in last few months the number of job losses is greater for women than men. Yet, when we are designing our stimulus programmes we have to think about this...If all the men are making the decisions, it is likely that they will not take into account issues related to women who have lost their jobs - it's like building bridges, building roads which are more men oriented.'

    Her point is echoed by concerns in Cambodia, where 90,000 mostly female garment workers have lost their jobs in an industry that accounts for at least half of export earnings. Clearly, crisis responses are needed that will generate employment opportunities for women. Infrastructure development - dominated by construction - is unlikely to create employment opportunities for displaced garment workers unless specific efforts are made.

    In the United States, companies receiving federal construction money are required to hire a workforce that is at least 9% female, much higher than the actual industry level of 2.7%. Preferential procurement is an important policy lever in stimulating the growth of women-owned enterprises across all sectors - and it also generates profits for private enterprise as well. (In the previous edition of International Trade Forum, page 28, telecommunications giant AT&T traces US$26 billion annually to sourcing products and services from women-owned and minority-owned business). What works is a targeted approach: food for thought for the World Bank in its approach to delivering $45 billion in infrastructure spending over the next three years.

    Clearly, we need to move beyond the notion of 'gender neutral' responses, and ensure that women have access to credit and opportunities to participate in decision-making processes, particularly in responding to crisis. Post-G20 and Spring Meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, we can take heart that some pledges have been made to keep micro-credit financing channels open. However, the language in the G20 declaration did not specifically target women, so we now need to ensure the international organizations do not take a 'gender neutral' approach, but instead put their operating procedures, policies and commitments to gender equality and the empowerment of women into practice, and invest in women. Equally important, if not more so, is a like commitment from the regional development banks as conduits for Aid for Trade.

    With so much at stake and funds poised to find solutions, we stand at a juncture in history where we can choose to allocate resources in favour of those that deliver a demonstrated return on investment. Now is the time to think past generic bailout, to focus specifically on leveraging women's economic clout.

    See Page 33 for the International Labour Organization's perspective on how the financial crisis is impacting women.