August 5, 2009 / 8:30 AM / 10 years ago

U.N. urges governments to tap women to fight global downturn

Employees assemble an engine at the production line of Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co., Ltd. in Hefei, Anhui province July 16, 2009. REUTERS/Jianan Yu

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Governments in the Asia Pacific should come up with more stimulus projects that help drive an economic recovery by tapping into the female labor force, rather than just creating construction jobs that mainly employ men, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.

U.N. Under Secretary-General Noeleen Heyzer said governments should also spend on health, education and agricultural services to create jobs for women.

“Women represent an untapped resource for most economies in Asia Pacific,” Heyzer told an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) seminar on women’s affairs. “Our region loses between $42 and $47 billion a year by restricting women’s access to employment.”

The Asia-Pacific has the world’s second highest ratio of employed women of working age at 49 percent — mainly low-skilled workers in labor-intensive manufacturing industries, such as textiles and apparels, leather products, and electronics.

Governments around the world have launched huge stimulus packages to fight the worst downturn in decades, with many using infrastructure projects to create jobs and growth.

Battered by the contraction of trade, the region’s developing countries’ average growth rate has fallen to 2.8 percent this year from 8.8 percent in 2007, despite the robust growth rates of China and India, Heyzer said.

“We must make sure that growth is more inclusive and socially equitable,” Heyzer told ministers and women leaders from 21 Asia Pacific economies, adding governments needed to do “gender budgeting,” ensure funding for micro-credit schemes and include women in steps to improve food production and food security.

Another 24.8 million people could lose their jobs as the crisis unfolds, rolling back development gains made over the last 10 years, said Heyzer, also executive secretary for the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Neil Chatterjee

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