Women in Asian region reveal under-education, high illiteracy ratios, and
unfair treatment in the labor market. Female enrollment ratios are relatively lower than
that of men, particularly in higher levels of education such as tertiary institutions. The
unemployment rate is higher among women or women immediately turn themselves
into the economically inactive population as they become unemployed.
Such poor status of women in this region very rapidly worsened on the surge of
the economic crisis. Lay-off and, more importantly, underemployment have been
observed among women with higher frequencies. Official unemployment rate among
women is contained by downward bias. Unemployment rate among women is lower
not because women are less affected by the crisis, but because laid-off female accept
lower paid work or swiftly return to economically inactive population. UNESCAP
surveys conducted in summer 2000 show that 74.2 percent of female respondents
suffered from over 75 percent income reduction in Korea while 60 percent of male
reported same reduction of income. In Thailand, only 1.6 percent of female reported no
income reduction while 31 percent of male respondents reported no reduction.
In spite of being more severely affected by the crisis, women received less
attention in the provision of social safety net aiming to counter the detrimental impacts
of the crisis. Lower proportion of female beneficiaries in public works program and
unemployment insurance strongly indicates that women were suffered from
discrimination even in the provision of social safety net intended to improve equity
among a society.
The reason behind the under presentation of female can be accounted for by
wrongly selected task demanding high physical strength, highly complicated
administration process requiring well-documented project proposal, biased screeningby the local officials recognizing women as secondary income earner, and informal
information channel favoring male applicants, an so on. In addition, high proportion of
female workers among the self-employed and informal sector, administration
difficulties encompassing the informal sector into official social safety net, and
unfavorable labor market practices forcing women to return to economically inactive
population are also attributable to inadequate treatment of women.
One of the best way to overcome such weakness observed in the current social
safety net will be to improve targeting strategies by designing contents and
administrative procedure more suitable to women. For example, if task for the public
works programs is extended to information services in the public offices, assistant
activities in social welfare facilities, street cleaning, and so on, then public works
programs will provide more substantial support to women.
A swift conversion of women's labor market status hindered them from
receiving adequate social benefits that they should be entitled to collect.
Unemployment insurance benefits were designed to require strict entitlement
conditions, including voluntary termination of employment, active job search, and
minimum contribution payment period, in order to prevent work disincentives. Women
who were urged to apply for voluntary retirement regardless of their own intentions
during the massive restructuring process perceived the labor market prospects as very
pessimistic. And they were not sufficiently informed about entitlement conditions of
unemployment insurance.1 Thus discrimination against women is believed to exist and
prevents them from obtaining adequate social protection.
The other case is that of social pr ograms aimed at protecting the socially
disadvantaged discriminated women, one of the most disadvantaged in society. Forexample, public works programs in Indonesia revealed very low proportion of female
beneficiaries even though the field workers selected as interviewers were instructed to
select as many women as possible. In spite of such efforts, only 52 female beneficiaries
were selected out of 32 villages. This indicates serious under-representation of women
in public works programs.
The main reason behind such low female representation is that the tasks of the
public works programs were seen as male -oriented. Construction, repair, renovation,
and normalization of social infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and irrigation
channels were the main tasks given to the PWP beneficiaries. Manual labor requiring
physical strength prevented women from applying for PWP even though there is no
serious discrimination against women in the other administration processes of PWP.
More strikingly, a majority of beneficiaries did not perceive such a fundamental
discrimination and answered that they did not experience any serious gender
discrimination when participating in PWP. This indicates that there exists deep-rooted
gender discrimination that people do not even recognize.
As a result, women were discriminated in availing of a social safety net aimed
at enhancing equity among members within a society. The features observed in the
social safety net intended to cushion the adverse impacts of the crisis provide strong
supporting evidence to this argument. Hence, we need to incorporate explicit gender
perspectives in every stage of policy-making including design, administration,
evaluation, and feedback process.
To achieve this goal, we need to develop more effective targeting strategies.
Given the skewed distribution of unemployment across gender, any programs aiming at
helping the unemployed should put more emphasis on gender issues in designing the
contents of the programs such as selecting tasks, target groups, and administration
procedures. For example, Korea selected computerization service to build up public
data base and to improve administrative efficiency. Given the high education level ofwomen in Korea, such a task selection is regarded to contribute to high female
presentation in public works program.
One of the more fundamental reasons behind lack of gender perspectives in
policy making and designing may be related to the organizational structure of the
government. Persons taking charge of policy making and program designing are
usually men even in the case of those dealing with women’s affairs. In most cases,
there is no opportunity to check the policies and programs from the goal setting to
specific designing with women’s perspective. As it were, men are working as an agent
for women, his principal. According to economic theory, outcomes driven by
maximizing agent’s utility do not optimize principal’s utility given the information
asymmetry. In general, the process of policy making and designing is not open to the
outsider and thereby it is a typical example of information asymmetry.
One of the solutions to such principal-agent problem in the stage of program
design is to develop well-designed reward scheme that induces the agent to work to
maximize principal’s utility. In general, public officials are not paid or evaluated on the
basis of the performance of the policies and programs they invented. If they are
rewarded by their outcomes, for instance the policy impacts on women in case of
dealing with women’s affairs, distortions related to program design can be substantially
reduced. The incentive mechanism will start working only if gender perspectives are
adequately incorporated into the goal setting of policy measures. A workable solution
to principal-agent problem in goal setting stage will be to appoint a modulator to
review and adjust all policy measures along with gender perspectives.
This paper leaves room for further development in the following sense. The
project, Evaluation of Income/Employment Generating Programs for Alleviating
Socio-economic Impacts of the Economic Crisis, provided valuable opportunities to
understand the gender dimension of social safety nets in the most affected region by
the crisis. Nevertheless, the main focus was not on the gender issues and thereby thesurveys have limitation to some extent in the context of gender analyses. More
carefully designed survey with full emphasis on gender dimension may lead to more
rigorous analyses addressing various issues of gender bias. For instance, interview with
non-participating female to identify why they do not receive the benefit may give rise
to valuable implication to resolve passive, or active discrimination against women
frequently observed in social safety nets they are meant to serve women.