By Wannapa Phetdee
The economic crisis in Asia is hurting women more than men, a discussion on the female workforce was told this week.
Consequently, it said, the government should provide more funding for women to start their own businesses focused on exporting to Asian markets rather than the US and Europe.
"By February this year more than 10 million workers in China, the majority of them women, were unemployed," said Lucia Victor Jayaseelan, executive coordinator of the Committee for Asian Women.
In other parts of Asia, 95 per cent of returning migrants are women, and around 80 per cent of workers in the region are unskilled women on low salaries, she said.
Finally, the committee expects that up to 90 per cent of retrenched workers will be women, concentrated in the highly export-oriented manufacturing industries now closing in Asia.
The Thematic Working Group on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women organised the discussion group at Bangkok's UN conference centre, under the theme 'Gender implications of the economic crisis in the Asia-Pacific.'
The discussion concluded that as more women are unemployed and factories shut down, governments should provide funding to boost the number of women in enterprise to help them during the economic downturn.
"Exports alone cannot help address the crisis because the US and EU are readucing imports. We should emphasise the regional market because there is a large market here," said Shamika Sirimanne, of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
Jean D'Cunha, of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) summarised speakers' recommendations to have more women among policy makers to work with governments to decide plans, policies, legislation and programmes to reduce the number of unemployed women; access to education equal to men; and ratification of the Labour Convention.
Speakers said another crucial problem both women and men are facing which the government should address is the system of 'flexible workers'.
"Flexible means they don't have a contract. They are outsourced - no protection. They cannot have access to health services. The government doesn't help them because they don't have a contract," Lucia pointed out, and she asked for flexible workers to have access to government health services.
Thai Labour Campaign director Junya Yimprasert demanded the Thai government tackle a crucial problem regarding female factory workers in Thailand. Labour laws should be seriously implemented as the country has failed to increase the number of labour unions in private companies to protect workers' rights.
"Many labour unions were not established as workers who tried to do so were persecuted by employers by firing before the unions were established officially," Junya said.
Junya urged the government to look into the future - to lead the country to sustainable development by promoting organic farmers in an attempt to transform Thailand into the food bank of the world.