Young Women Speaking the Economy
Alicia Giron, an economist and former vice president of the International Association for Feminist Economics, talked with IMOW about how this economic crisis is different from past crises, how the changing economic landscape affects women at home and in the workplace, and what will be the key to Mexican women's future success.
IMOW: How has the economic crisis changed women's work in Mexico?
Alicia Giron: Women's employment has fluctuated greatly with changing economic factors. Since the economic crisis of 1976, Mexican women as well as other women from Latin America were increasingly participating in the labor market. The number of economically-active women in Mexico has grown rapidly, especially between 1989 and 2008 when Mexico's economy was also growing.
But this growth hasn't been consistent because of a variety of factors including other, smaller crises. For example, women's participation in work in the public sector has fallen about 5 percent since 1994 as a result of the banking crisis that occurred in the winter of 1994. Additionally, women's participation in professional and technical fields dropped from 16.7 percent in 2004 to 9.1 in 2008, while the number of women who are domestic workers has remained the same. So women have made gains in some fields, but this growth hasn't happened quickly, and they continue to work in jobs that are traditionally filled by women.
IMOW: Has the changing economic landscape affected women in other ways?
AG: Since they began entering the labor market, women of all social classes have earned incomes and were considered heads of household. This process of integration into the labor market resulted in greater economic freedom for women, but they also became major providers for their families, and even changed the type of traditional family. So, over time economic crises in Mexico have changed women's roles.
IMOW: What does this shift from traditional roles mean for women?
AG: The propulsion of women into the labor market has led not only to women working, but many began working in the formal and informal markets in addition to their housework. That is, the Mexican woman started working a triple workday. The alternative for many of them was leaving their families and migrating to the United States.
IMOW: Since more women are working outside the home, where have they found the most work opportunities? Has the economic crisis lessened these opportunities?
AG: The economic crisis and the growth of the informal economy go hand in hand. But Mexico lacks policies that ensure retirement services, health, food and housing for those women working in the informal economy. With the crisis, women have had to accept any job as long as they are able to earn income for their families.
IMOW: Are women earning more respect when it comes to work or job opportunities? Or is there still discrimination?
AG: Research has shown that, in micro-credit programs or government social programs where women receive an allowance for children going to school, women are the ones saving. Women make the best use of money from the government as well as from loans through microfinance institutions. Women also organize themselves much better than men, and channel money to productive projects such as supplies for children school age.
However, credit can come with a very high cost. Some organizations give loans but charge much higher interest rates than commercial banks charge to those who are mostly in the formal sectors of employment. Women who use microcredit pay a steep price for this financial service, and the microfinance companies continue to be poorly regulated by the Committee of National Banking and Securities.
IMOW: What are the first areas women in Mexico tend to suffer in during economic crisis?
AG: Women are definitely affected most by the increased number of hours they work in the care economy. Additionally, the decline in social spending by the government has reduced infrastructure services in many communities. Young girls have been taken out of school and made to stay at home to care for siblings, or possibly move into the labor market to help the family income. As a result, the government has created special programs to give scholarships to girls so that they do not stop studying.
IMOW: In your opinion, what will be crucial for Mexican women who want to achieve economic empowerment?
AG: The most important thing is women's levels of education. Education will allow more women to become distinguished in the public sphere. When women are educated and work outside of the home, many of them stand out as popular leaders, academic leaders, and many begin taking part in politics. However, women currently represent less than 30 percent of leaders in parliament. The glass ceiling in politics is still very strong.