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Asia women's jobs vulnerable despite recovery

First Posted 14:11:00 04/29/2011

MANILA, Philippines?Asia's women have suffered disproportionately in the economic downturn and remain vulnerable to job loss, with casual laborers the first to be fired and young women trailing men in employment opportunities, a report said Friday.

Women are often relegated to the status of secondary household earners, and their limited work opportunities are costing Asia-Pacific countries $47 billion annually in lost income, according to a study by the International Labor Organization and the Asian Development Bank.

The region stands to lose another $30 billion a year because of a gender gap in education at a crucial time when it is leading the global economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, the report said.

As regional economies rebound, conditions have improved for Asia's 734 million female workers but not enough to level the field in the labor market, the report said.

Women were the hardest hit by the crisis because female casual workers, seen as a buffer work force, were often the first to lose their jobs.

Female unemployment in Asia is relatively low but that does not mean that Asian women are better off, the report said.

In 2009, the region's unemployment rate for women was 4.3 percent compared to 4.7 percent for men?well below the global female unemployment rate of 6.5 percent.

But that is likely due to persisting demand for lowly paid female workers in manufacturing and because jobless Asian women are driven to the informal economy, the ILO and the Manila-based development lender said in the study.

They said subregions revealed different patterns. Female jobless rates were higher than male rates in Central Asia, the Pacific islands and South Asia. In Southeast Asia, they were about equal.

The study also found that in all subregions except East Asia, the jobless rate was higher for young women than young men.

Among other findings:

? Women comprise 70 to 90 percent of the workers in labor-intensive factories in export processing zones but are usually paid 10 to 30 percent less than men.

? Asian women also account for more than half of workers in health care, education, finance, hotels and restaurants, but generally do not hold senior managerial positions in any of those fields.

? Forty-five percent of Asian women of working age were inactive or outside the labor force, compared to 19 percent of Asian men.

The two institutions urged governments to adopt policies to help women entrepreneurs establish businesses and to assist female farm workers in boosting productivity and incomes. In 2009, 48.2 percent of women compared to 38.9 percent of men worked in farms where earnings are lowest, and where many women are unpaid family workers.

They also called for equal access to education and training.

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