financial crisis has been a special disaster for women .
The bottom line
across most of Asia, from the office suites of Japan to the
peasant villages of Indonesia, has always been that resources
are allocated disproportionately to men and boys. In times of
bounty, there are plenty of leftovers for women; in lean times
like these, it is women who are the leanest of all.
As a result of
the financial crisis, women are disproportionately losing
their jobs and families are pulling their daughters out of
school or even selling them to brothels.
been hit by the Asian financial crisis, by a drought and by
political turmoil that has further ravaged the economy. The
number of children dropping out of elementary school in poor
areas of Indonesia has doubled in the last few months, aid
organizations say, and the great majority of the dropouts are
This is not a
new problem, for even before the crisis, girls in Indonesia
were six times more likely than boys to drop out of school
before the fourth grade. But the long economic boom in Asia
had been chipping away at the gender discrimination and
creating new opportunities for girls and women.
development experts say, that process has been reversed.
Interviews around the region suggest that in these times of
scarcity, job opportunities for women and educational
opportunities for girls are narrowing again.
That is a
problem in many parts of Asia, for in times of difficulty even
most food and medical care go to males. Some say this is
because it is the men who do the hardest work and therefore
need the most energy. Others say it is because of traditions
that sons carry on the family name and family line, while
daughters marry into other families and represent a familial
that it is not that parents deliberately starve their
daughters, but rather that they take the choicest bits of meat
out of the pot and set them on the plate of the father or the
eldest son. Or parents rush their sick son to the doctor, but
when their daughter is ill they feel her forehead doubtfully
and say, "Well, let's see how you are tomorrow."
As a result, in
much of Asia girls die at a higher rate compared with boys
than in most other parts of the world -- whether rich areas
like the United States or poor areas like sub-Saharan Africa.
It is too soon to see whether this financial crisis will
worsen the imbalance, but the risks are evident.
consequence of the Asian financial crisis in the home may
simply be that a lot more women are getting beaten up every
evening. The evidence is anecdotal, but aid organizations and
women themselves say the strains of financial hardship are
leading to more violence in the homes. This appears most
common not in middle class families but in the villages and
urban slums that have been worst affected by the financial
mortality rates are already high in Southeast Asia, for a
woman is 16 times as likely to die in childbirth in Thailand
as in the United States, 30 times as likely in Indonesia, and
43 times as likely in Myanmar.
In the labor
market, women have been particularly hard-hit in north Asian
countries with a Confucian heritage, places like South Korea
discrimination is not necessarily rooted in misogyny. In an
odd way, it is in some cases based on a genuine desire to
minimize the pain of layoffs.
The best and
brightest women graduates can still often get good jobs. A
look at hiring records of 55 Japanese companies shows that the
proportion of women being hired for fast-track
"career" jobs this year is roughly the same as in
1990 or has even slightly increased. Now as then, women are
hired for about 15 percent of these career-track jobs, which
offer excellent prospects for promotions but mean sacrificing
one's family life for the company.
challenge for women in northeast Asia, therefore, is faced not
be the most ambitious and talented women graduates who compete
for the career track but by more ordinary people.
Traditionally, women did not enter the career track but worked
as office ladies. They are the least important employees -- in
Japanese they are called "flowers of the workplace"
and are treated as partly ornamental -- and so when companies
run into financial distress those are the kinds of positions
that are cut out.
say, therefore, that the discrimination is not so much in the
workplace, which is quite naturally weeding out the
non-essential staff. More broadly, they say, the problem lies
in the social values that channel young women to the slow
track and that require mothers, but not fathers, to take off
from work to take part in school activities and look after
crisis has driven families in places like Thailand and
Indonesia to sell their own daughters to brothels.
transactions have long been common in Southeast Asia, they
seem to have become more frequent in recent months, according
to social workers and local news reports. There have never
been reliable statistics on the sale of girls, and the
authorities often do not intervene.
local newspapers and aid workers report that complex deals are
now taking place in which loans are made to peasants with a
woman as the collateral. If the peasant defaults, then the
lender gets the woman.
One study by
the University Diponegoro in the major Indonesian city of
Semarang found that since the crisis the number of Semarang's
street children aged 13 to 15 had increased 43 percent. The
study also found that 30 percent of girls who became street
children had turned to prostitution to support themselves.
One might think
that the sex industry would suffer during difficult economic
times because men have less cash to pay for entertainment. But
as social workers describe it, the business is almost entirely
supply-driven: it expands because there are more girls
desperate for any cash at all, even at much lower rates than