The impact of the economic crisis on women migrant workers

The UNIFEM East and Southeast Asia Regional Office, in cooperation with the International Labour Organization and with support from the European Commission, organized a Forum on the Gendered Impact of the Economic Crisis on Asian Migrant Workers on 23-25 April in Bangkok. The global financial crisis is not sparing the economies of East and Southeast Asia: this year Singapore’s economy is expected to contract by as much as 8 percent, Hong Kong and Japan by 6 percent, Thailand by 5 percent and Malaysia by 3 percent. These countries rely heavily on foreign labour, particularly women migrant workers, not least in the sectors that are most adversely impacted, such as electronics assembly, food processing and domestic work. “While we need more systematic research on the gendered impact of the crisis on migrant workers, existing evidence suggests that women’s jobs are among the first to go. Those who do manage to continue are seeing delays and cuts in wages and overtime payments, increasingly hazardous conditions and the loss of benefits like subsidized meals and transport. The loss of women’s income has long-term negative implications for poor families, in particular because of the stable contribution women make to current household income and their robust expenditure on the well-being and welfare of the children,” said Dr. Jean D’Cunha, UNIFEM Regional Programme Director in East and Southeast Asia. The forum in Bangkok was organized with the aim of developing recommendations to mitigate the adverse impact of the crisis on women migrants, focusing on 5 sectors: electronics, garments, food processing, tourism and domestic work. It brought together senior officials from ministries of women’s affairs and labour, executives from the identified sectors, trade union officials, non-governmental organizations, academics and representatives from international organizations. The countries represented at the forum were Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

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