Page last updated at 14:04 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Worldwide downturn 'to hit women'

African office worker
Men were the first to lose their jobs, but women are vulnerable too

The economic crisis could increase the number of unemployed women by up to 22 million this year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says.

In a report assessing employment trends for women, the ILO warns that they will not escape the downturn.

But the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said women were not suffering more than men.

The global crisis began in the US and Europe's financial sectors in jobs traditionally dominated by men.

But unemployment is now spreading well beyond these sectors, the ILO says.

"The sectors that were initially impacted the hardest, which were finance, insurance and real estate, construction and manufacturing were often dominated by male workers," said Jeff Johnson, author of the report.

"But as this crisis has played out, it's hit other sectors of the economy - service-orientated sectors, wholesale retail trade - which in many industrialised economies are dominated by females."

Jobs disappear

As consumer confidence wanes, more traditionally female jobs such as waitresses and shop assistants, are all disappearing too.

The ILO is especially worried about women in the developing world, working in agriculture, or as domestic servants, on a piecemeal basis.

It's a truism that more women will lose jobs in this recession than in previous recessions - there are simply lots more women in the workforce
John Philpott
CIPD

They have no social protection and are especially vulnerable during an economic downturn.

The ILO is predicting a global rise in unemployment this year of up to 51 million people - 22 million, it believes, will be women.

The organisation is calling on governments to ensure that new jobs created by economic stimulus packages guarantee fair salaries, and social protection measures.

However, official UK figures showed that women were "definitely not" suffering more than men from job cuts and rising unemployment, according to the CIPD.

The argument had been pushed by vested interest groups, said the group's chief economist.

"It's a truism that more women will lose jobs in this recession than in previous recessions - there are simply lots more women in the workforce," he said.

During a recession, offering flexible working opportunities becomes less of a priority for businesses, which will make it harder for these women to stay in employment
Karen Gill
Director, Everywoman

"Yet while one can't yet entirely rule out the possibility that women will lose out relative to men in the jobs stakes as the recession unfolds, this is categorically not true of the jobs downturn to date."

He acknowledged that women who lost their jobs might need tailored help to enable them to cope with unemployment and returning to work - including income pressure on lone parents and childcare issues.

But more men had so far lost their jobs during the recession, Mr Philpott said.

Falling flexibility

A recession created a climate which could disadvantage women, said Karen Gill, a director at Everywoman, which offers support and advice for women in business.

"Unfortunately, women tend to have a lower skill-set than men, at least in the UK, and in a recession, while many people have to 'trade down' in their career and take jobs that are below their skills-base, the competition is even more fierce," Ms Gill said.

She added that many women - especially those who were lone parents - needed flexible working options, "and often have to undertake part-time and lower paid work".

"During a recession, offering flexible working opportunities becomes less of a priority for businesses, which will make it harder for these women to stay in employment," Ms Gill said.

"In addition to this, part time positions are also often the first to go. "



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