Economies sitting on untapped potential, says UN Under-Secretary-General

by Kobakila News

SINGAPORE (Aug. 9) – “For the poor and particularly for women of our region, there are some tough times ahead,” Dr. Noleen Heyzer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for the Asia-Pacific (ESCAP) cautioned a largely female audience at the APEC Women Leaders Network on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

While women have emerged as what she calls the flexible labour force par excellence, “their entry into the workplace has also coincided with trends towards outsourcing and subcontracting; relegating women’s jobs to the informal sector without any job security or benefits.  The inherent risks of this positioning are now becoming apparent as the economic crisis unfolds.”

According to estimates from the International Labour Organisation, an additional 9 million women in the region will become unemployed in 2009, bringing the total number of unemployed women to an approximate 38 million this year.  

And while there are signs of early economic recovery, she says, experience shows that real wages take an average of three years to recover and employment growth does not return to pre-crisis levels for several years after that.   In developing economies – and in spite of the robust gains of recent years – important gains made over the last ten years could effectively be undone.

Still, the news is not all bad, insists Heyzer, who believes the crisis can be used as an opportunity, deeming the APEC region “the epicentre of economic growth.”

According to ESCAP research, she says, “our [APEC] region loses between USD 42 and 47 billion dollars a year by restricting women’s access to employment” and “up to USD 17 billion dollars a year are lost in the region due to gender gaps in education.”

For most economies in the Asia-Pacific, women are an untapped resource and, conversely, represent potential for economic recovery and growth.

This, she says, can be achieved through gender sensitive fiscal stimulus packages; promotion of intra-regional trade; improved access of girls and women to education and training; increased corporate social responsibility and commitment to equitable pay.

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