Women bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty. Statistics indicate that women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and control of assets. Poverty implications are widespread for women, leaving many without even basic rights such as access to clean drinking water, sanitation, medical care and decent employment. Being poor can also mean they have little protection from violence and have no role in decision making.
According to some estimates, women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. They are often paid less than men for their work, with the average wage gap in 2008 being 17 percent. Women face persistent discrimination when they apply for credit for business or self-employment and are often concentrated in insecure, unsafe and low-wage work. Eight out of ten women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with global economic changes taking a huge toll on their livelihoods.
The current financial crisis is likely to affect women particularly severely. In many developing countries where women work in export-led factories, or in countries where migrant women workers are the backbone of service industries, women’s jobs have taken the greatest hit. The International Labour Organization estimates that the economic downturn could lead to 22 million more unemployed women in 2009, jeopardizing the gains made in the last few decades in women’s empowerment.
In many countries, however, the impact goes far beyond the loss of formal jobs, as the majority of women tend to work in the informal sector, for example as domestics in cities, and do not show up in official unemployment numbers. Economic policies and institutions still mostly fail to take gender disparities into account, from tax and budget systems to trade regimes. And with too few seats at the tables where economic decisions are made, women themselves have limited opportunity to influence policy.
Advancing women’s economic security and rights has always been a core UN Women priority. UN Women supports women to reshape conditions at both ends of the economic spectrum — from boosting women’s participation in economic policy-making to supporting efforts to provide women and their communities with practical skills needed for securing sustainable livelihoods.
In more than 40 countries, for example, UN Women supports national and local initiatives to include gender perspectives in budgeting processes, and to collect and use sex-disaggregated data in public policy formulation to ensure that macro-economic policy frameworks address women’s priorities. UN Women also works to strengthen women’s rights to land and inheritance, increase their access to credit and decent work, and empower women migrant workers as well as home-based workers.