A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
The economic crisis continues to affect many women and men living in poverty. But how these effects are felt depends, to a large extent, on their relationships with the people and institutions with whom they interact. These relationships are profoundly different for women and men.
Unemployment hits poor families hard, regardless of whether it is a man or woman who is laid off. But the chances of a family recovering from this setback is shaped by the different levels of bargaining power that women and men have in the labor market, and their different responsibilities at home. The gender inequalities and power imbalances that predate the current crisis have resulted in its additional afflictions falling disproportionately on those who are already structurally disempowered and marginalized.
Although often labelled ‘coping strategies’, the means women find to respond to crises are frequently unsustainable, and are more appropriately conceived of as ‘desperation measures’. Pre-existing inequalities, which include under-representation of women at all levels of economic decision making and their over-representation in informal, vulnerable, and casual employment, are often more significant than gender inequalities arising specifically from the crisis.
This paper summarizes the issues raised during a workshop of development and gender practitioners and academics, convened in September 2009, by the international journal Gender and Development, published by Oxfam.
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