Help women weather economic crisis, UN official tells Asia-Pacific nations

5 August 2009

The top United Nations official in the Asia-Pacific region has called on countries to help women weather the ongoing economic crisis, including by promoting their interests as part of government stimulus packages.

Noeleen Heyzer urged members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc to seize the opportunity to build not just a new economic infrastructure but also a progressive one.

“We must make sure that growth is more inclusive and socially equitable,” said Ms. Heyzer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

“This includes ensuring that women have access to opportunities to participate in national economic recovery and that they emerge from this crisis in a better position to participate in our region’s bright economic future,” she said in a keynote address to the 14th APEC Women Leaders Network (WLN) meeting in Bangkok.

The region’s poor, particularly women, could face tough times ahead as countries in Asia and the Pacific seek to restart their economies in the aftermath of the global economic slowdown, she warned.

At the same time, she noted that the Asia-Pacific region has the second highest ratio of employed women of working age in the world at 49 per cent, even constituting the majority of low-skilled workers in labour-intensive manufacturing industries such as textiles and apparels, leather products and electronics.

However, the crisis has revealed a number of issues affecting women in the workplace, such as the trends toward outsourcing and subcontracting.

Research carried out by the Economic Commission shows that restricting women’s access to work, education and health services comes at significant economic costs, totalling between $42 billion and $47 billion each year in losses to countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Ms. Heyzer noted that while fiscal stimulus packages containing large infrastructure and public works projects are one of the most effective ways to reach a wide range of unemployed workers without regard to skills, most of these jobs are in construction where 80 to 90 per cent of jobs are held by men.

One of the ways to create employment opportunities for women, she said, is to ensure funding for health, education and agricultural extension services, and investments in small- and medium-scale enterprises.

APEC members already had some of the most successful practices of social development and vibrant businesses in the world, she noted. “Let us build upon these successes. Releasing the full potential of women is not only good for women, it is also smart economics.”

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