GFC's devastating impact on women and girls in Asia Pacific | Asia Pacific

GFC's devastating impact on women and girls in Asia Pacific

GFC's devastating impact on women and girls in Asia Pacific

Updated 21 January 2013, 22:30 AEST

Women and girls have borne the brunt of national budget cutbacks in the Asia Pacific region, in the wake of the world economic slowdown.

This is according to a report commissioned by PLAN, one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world.

The report points to the worsening situation for many girls and young women in education, health and employment.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Nicola Jones, co-author of PLAN-commissioned report and researcher at the Overseas Development Institute, ODI in London

JONES: We wanted to highlight that this was a population group that will have a very significant impact on future generations, that really isn't getting alot of attention, when we're discussing macro-economic policy and trends, and that's why we wanted to highlight it for the Davos discussions this week. So one of the most stark statistics to think about, is that girls' infant mortality is five-times higher than it is for boys, with every one percent fall in per capital GDP. When you have an economic crisis such as the one that's ongoing, then primary school completion rates for girls falls significantly more than for boys. And this gets progressively worse as girls get older and go into secondary and tertiary education.

In the Philippines, for instance, while boys and girls from poor households have experienced hunger, the proportion of girls who're food poor, has doubled. And yet it's only increased by a half, amongst boys. And in India, you see an increase of hunger amongs girls, about twenty-five percent. So it's really disturbing, including in the Asia-pacific region.

LAM: And where the region is concerned, are we mainly talking about developing countries here?

JONES: Yes, but not only. A World Bank report has come out saying that 133 countries are introducing austerity budgets in order to cope with the recession, and that this is going to have a significant impact such as basic services such as health, education and social safety nets, which are really criticial, especially for the food poorest in these times.

LAM: The report also says shrinking economies often hit females the hardest. Is this an unintended consequence, or do some countries or communities, specifically target girls and women, in cutting their budgets?

JONES: I think it's an unintended consequence, but I think governments should be held responsible for overlooking it. There is a considerable amount of data now that shows that over repeated crises, including the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s, that girls and young women were worst-hit. And yet, ten, fifteen years later, we haven't really adequately learned those lessons. And so, while I think it's not intentional, much more could be done, to shore up or mitigate the problems that girls and young women are facing.

I mean, just think about youth unemployment. It's considerably higher across the globe, including in the Asia-pacific region for young women, And yet youth employment policies really don't take into account these gender inequalities and so the problem continues and it's exacerbated across generations.

LAM: And tell us about some of the recommendations made by your report?

JONES: Well I think the first thing we're trying to highlight is that countries need to re-assess the austerity measures they've introduced, because these are going to have impact on public expenditure in education, health, protection and legal services for girls. And that while it might help to balance the budget in the short term, the longer term consequences could be very, very negative indeed.

We also think it's critical for the rich countries of the OECD to maintain their development assistance, because obviously lots of domestic problems, but we need to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable are not going to be hurt as a result of the global crisis.

And then i think we very much wanted to put a spotlight on programmes that support girls and young women. so for example, cash transactions that have been set up globally that are now reaching millions of poor families that provide regular cash stipends, we think these should be scaled up, and that the cash stipends can be made conditional on ensuring that girls are in school, right throuGH to the end of secondary school, and then other programs, such as school feeding programs that'll help to address the malnutrional problems that girls are facing.

There really has to be a much stronger focus on youth unemployment and the way it's impacting young women.

lam: and your report also recommended that governments strengthened social protection programs?

JONES: yes, the cash transfer programs are an example of these social protection programs. so these are programs that have been set up in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippiines, in Asia that are attracting alot of attention, because they have the ability to reach a very large proportion of the poor, and typically, families will receive a cash stipend every two or three months, but often they have to sign a 'social contract' in a way, with the government that says, yes, we'll make sure our children are immunised, that they're taking food supplements where necessary, that the children are in school and not involved in child labour. and that's been very effective in minimising school drop-outs, improving child nutrition, but also protecting girls from very disturbing practices around transactional or commercial, and we're seeing quite alot of that, especially in Southeast-Asia during the crisis, in countries such as Cambodia.

LAM: And where the mothers of households are concerned, how much control do they have of these funds that are made available to them?

JONES: The research suggests that because many of these programmes specifically target women, because they have control over food and educational expenditure in the household, that actually, it IS reaching children more than other types of programmes. So, the fact that these cash transfer programmes typically target women, are seen to be very beneficial and increasingly, institutions such as the World Bank are also providiing major loans to countries in the region to scale up these kinds of programmes.

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