Monday, November 9, 2009

Global Recession and Its Affect on Women - an International Conference in Haifa

I was privileged to be able to attend the official opening of the 26th Bi-Annual International Conference for Women Leaders and Experts who met here in Haifa this week to discuss the “Global financial crisis and its implications for women”.

This conference was held under the auspices of Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation and UN-OSAGI, the office of the special advisor to the Secretary General on gender issues and the advancement of women.

The gathering included Ambassadors, political leaders and many guests from countries plus representatives from a number of UN organizations such as UNISEF, UNIDOR and others.

From Africa - Ghana, Benin, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia,
South Africa, Uganda.

From Europe - Latvia, Ireland, Afghanistan, France, Luxemburg, Holland.

From Central and South America – Mexico, Panama, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, Equador, Guatemala, Jamaica.

From Asia - The Philippines, India, Malaysia.

From North America – USA and Canada

From Middle East – Turkey, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and of course Israel amongst whom were representatives from the Bahai, the Arab sector and Rotary.

Following the welcoming speech by the director of Mashav, Gila Gamliel of the Israeli Knesset and who is the first Deputy Minister to be appointed with responsibility for Women’s Affairs in the government spoke about the laws being enacted and those proposed to enhance the status of women in Israel.

She pointed out the advancements made in Israel with a significantly high percentage at work and in senior positions but that more work needed to be done. For example while 51% of the student population are women, only 11% are in senior positions in industry.

Ambassador Haim Navon, the head of Mashav welcomed the guests on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He related something of the history of Mashav from its inception. He told of the desire of the State of Israel to help underdeveloped countries just as Israel had been helped during its early founding years.

A further introductory speech was given by Rachel Mayanja of Uganda, the new Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, to be followed by the keynote speech by Prof. Jomo Kwame Sundaram of Malaysia, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

He opened by pointing out two special characteristics of the event. One, being the 26th conference, it became the longest runniing such event. No other UN event had reached a history of 52 years. The second feature, quite unique was that there were for the first time at such a conference 2 assistant Director Generals for the UN at the same event.

In the main part of the presentation, Prof Sundaram spoke about the rapid increase in the numbers worldwide who had slipped into poverty. From last year’s 900 million, it had increased to 1.4 billion of which 70% were women. It is expected that a further 200 million will be added to the figure before the end of the year. Unemployment is expected to rise by an additional 51 million by the end of the year.

One feature of this crisis, Sundaram continued, is the status of emigrant workers. They traditionally remit their salaries to their families but in this crisis many have been the first to lose their jobs and consequently their country of origin has suffered in double measure.

In general, government spending on social issues has been reduced by 11% creating more problems. Additionally, in attempts to stop the downturn $20 trillion had been injected into the economies of the G20 countries compared with barely $20 million for the underdeveloped countries.

In the previous recessions, recovery in the job market took between 2-4 years, however, there is great uncertainty in the length of job recovery from this recession.

Turning to income levels of women, Prof Sundaram pointed out that women’s salaries in the USA and UK were approx 60-63% of men’s salaries whereas in the Midddle East and Africa (not including Israel) it was barely 35%.

Women have been the hardest hit in this economic downturn and it is to be hoped that the working sessions over the course of the next 4 days can come up with ideas for solving some if not all of these problems.

No comments: