BRIDGE Report 15: The Impact of Recession and Adjustment on Women's Work in Selected Developing Countries

Author: S. Baden
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Dec 1993
Do women work more or less in times of economic hardship' The regions most severely affected by recession and adjustment in the 1980s were Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa. What was the impact of this on women's work' Structural adjustment policies were introduced to promote economic stability in these regions, which led to cuts in public expenditure, shifts in employment patterns and more people working in the informal sector. This report reviews the impact of such policies on women, showing that they have had mixed effects, and women often bear the 'hidden costs'. Policies must be revised to ensure women's equal access to land, labour markets, and compensatory programmes so that they do not continue to bear the burden of recession and adjustment.

Various methodological difficulties prevent separate statistical analysis of the effects of recession on women's work and of adjustment on women's work. The effects of recession on employment generally, and women's work in particular, can however be analysed in terms of how female labour force participation rates, under/unemployment and wages are affected during a recession. The impact of adjustment can be measured in terms of how employment patterns change in different sectors of the economy (such as services to industry) and how wages vary between sectors. While general conclusions cannot be drawn because of lack of data and the diversity of experience across countries, general observations include: . Declining formal sector employment and wages, to which women are more vulnerable due to their higher representation in lower skill and occupational levels. . Growth of the informal sector, with women's participation higher than that of men. Underemployment (not working to full capacity), low productivity and decreasing wages characterise this sector. . Cutbacks in the public sector, where women's employment is often concentrated. . Unemployment among women is higher than among men, even for highly educated groups. Underemployment also mainly effects women, as their work is considered to be more informal. . Significant pressures are placed on women's time. As women enter the informal sector to make up for declining household income, men do not share their domestic responsibilities. Given these observations, the following recommendations should be considered: . Address the specific needs of unemployed and underemployed women through compensatory programmes, which alleviate the effects of recession and create employment. . Tackle gender discrimination in the labour market through laws and policy. . Design programmes to meet the needs of women in the informal sector (for example, credit and training) . Assure women's access to land so that they can benefit from increased crop exports. . Initiate strategies to ensure that increased pressure on women's time and their increased participation in work outside the home do not undermine other development gains (such as education and health).