Social Safety Nets for Women

Social Safety Nets for Women

Social Safety Nets for Women

Social Safety Nets for Women


This study from the Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) examines social protection systems and crisis-designed social safety nets in six Asian countries. A primary question in this study is whether the initiatives to mitigate the shocks of the crisis adequately reflect the different circumstances of women and men in the labor force and society in general. Attention is paid to government's attempts to target women as recipients of social safety net programmes and to the role of women in informal social safety nets activities. The study is divided into the following sections: Chapter 1 is an overview. Chapters II through VII present country studies on China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Republic of Korea. A conclusion offers proposed recommendations.


Governments in the region relied, to a large extent, upon economic growth to reduce the incidence of poverty in their countries and ensure social security for all. This approach brought dramatic success for a number of countries, in their efforts at poverty alleviation. While this developmental thrust is understandable, in that the governments of the market economies were attempting to move their countries into a positive condition of development, it also left these countries particularly vulnerable. An acute economic contraction, such as that brought on by the financial crisis of 1997/1998, was enough to undo much of the progress in poverty eradication achieved over decades of development.

The social impact of the financial crisis was evident in several ways. First, the financial shocks caused currency depreciation that produced changes in relative prices, which in turn changed relative wages, employment patterns and consumption baskets. Additionally, these price increases primarily affected goods that were imported, such as pharmaceuticals, food and fuel. and these price increases particularly affected the urban poor, who are net consumers. Open unemployment, and increasing underemployment initially affected the urban areas which were the major areas of factory employment for the rapidly growing export industries and the construction industry. There was also a reduction in demand for international labour which affected countries that rely on this source of labour for a large proportion of international exchange. in some cases there was loss of assets in the form of savings, some possessions, or even houses serviced by short-term mortgages. This particularly affected the lower middle class in the urban areas. the poor were particularly affected by inflation because they typically hold more of any savings they may have in the form of money, which was losing its purchasing power. the sharp rise in credit rates reduced consumption and housing construction. the inability to raise credit led to factory closures and unemployment.

Report after report that followed the crisis, however, indicated that women were often the first workers to be laid off — both because the industries in which they predominate (e.g. textiles and garments) were those most affected by the crisis and because women were less unionised and therefore easier to sack. the unemployment situation was also aggravated by increasing numbers of returning migrant labourers, many of whom were women, who were being expelled by countries which were experiencing their own unemployment problems. Moreover, cuts in public social sector expenditure, that came in the aftermath of the crisis, rising prices for foodstuffs and other basic commodities caused partly by increasing costs of imports brought even more hardships, especially for women who have primary responsibility for balancing household budgets and care of the family.

In response to these social impacts of the crisis, many women moved into alternative forms of self-employment in the informal sector, but they often lacked the necessary technical skills to do so and faced difficulties in gaining access to training or to credit. Many therefore . . .

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