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Financial crisis shows gender bias

Women and children hit hard by shrinking export sector, says the UN.

WITH 60,000 job losses in the garment sector, women - who are the main employees in the industry - are being disproportionately affected by the global economic crisis, and this could have severe consequences for Cambodia's families, according to a press release on Wednesday from the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator.

Though nearly every industry has been affected by the crisis, the most vulnerable jobs are those in the exports sector; and in Cambodia, this mostly means garment factories that are staffed 90 percent by women, said Sukti Dasgupta, a specialist on employment and labour markets for the International Labour Organisation in Bangkok.

"The crisis in Cambodia definitely has a female face to the extent that it affects the garment industries," Dasgupta said.

Compared to the downturn a decade ago, this financial crisis could be far worse for women, added Dasgupta.

"The downturn in the late '90s had an effect on women, but the drivers were different.... They were not stemming from a sector where mainly women were employed."

Many of the laid-off garment workers are returning home to the provinces and have few options beyond subsistence agriculture, says the UN.

With less money, women may choose to spend less on food, healthcare and education, putting Cambodia's long-term economic gains in jeopardy, warned UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick.

"Deterioration in these areas not only sets back the country today, but also long into the future, long after Wall Street has recovered," Broderick said in the press release.

Tuomo Poutiainen, the chief technical adviser of the ILO's Better Factories program, said, "Because women socially have more responsibility in the household, it [a job loss] will affect the whole family."

A 2008 National Anthropometric Survey shows an increase in acute malnutrition in children - evidence of the unhealthy coping measures of families run by underemployed women, says the UN.

Dasgupta says that any response to the economic crisis that is being discussed needs to be gender-sensitive.

Broderick said: "Investing in women and children in the long term is the best way to ensure long-term prosperity."

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