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The Price of Austerity: The Impact on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Europe (Oct 2012)

Posted on 16 November 2012

The Price of Austerity: The Impact on Women's Rights and Gender Equality in Europe (Oct 2012)

[Brussels, 14 November 2012] The findings of the EWL study, The price of austerity – the impact on women’s rights and gender equality in Europe , reveal that while austerity measures are hurting women, men, girls and boys across the European Union (EU), women are particularly hit the hardest. Because public sector employment and public services concern women to a far greater extent than men, any change in the public sector will impact on women more. Austerity measures that seek to reduce public deficits by cutting public sector jobs, services and benefits directly impact on women. Narrowing gender gaps in employment, unemployment and pay are not to be interpreted as growing gender equality but rather a deterioration of the working and living conditions for all.

Not a he-cession after all...the untold story behind the statistics

As predicated in the previous joint EWL/Oxfam publication in 2010, Women’s poverty and social exclusion at a time of recession – An invisible crisis?, the first ‘wave’ of the crisis was a private sector crisis which impacted more on the male dominated sectors of the economy (car industry..), the extension of the crisis to the public sector impacts on women more.

Based on a survey of EWL member organisations as well as other sources, the study maps the pattern of the impact of austerity measures on women and gender equality. Focusing on three areas, namely, cuts in public sector jobs and wages, cuts in services and benefits and cuts in funding for women’s rights and gender equality the findings reveal that the crisis is not a he-cession after all, as the official statistics do not tell the full story. For example, while women’s unemployment rate is close to that of men’s, statistics fail to capture the fact that when women become unemployed they tend to withdraw from the labour-market or as involuntary part-time workers they are counted as being employed. Cuts in public services and benefits translate into a care crisis, as reductions in care services, cuts in child, disability, carers’ benefits and reductions in tax credits, are translating into the privatisation of care. Cuts in statutory leave, including parental and paternity leave, are preventing men from taking their share of care, with the result that women’ real choices to engage in paid work on the labour market are compromised.

Return to the past?

The EWL study questions the long term impact of austerity measures on women’s rights and gender relations, particularly equality between women and men. The impact of austerity measures could roll back years of progress. Women’s employment rate in 22 countries is back to 2005 levels, a far cry - which will require massive investments – from the EU’s headline target to reach a 75% employment rate for women and men by 2020. When States fail to provide public services and reassess their role in income and wealth distribution, women pay the price. More worryingly gender equality is damaged as the danger of a return to entrenched traditional gender roles and expectations put women’s economic independence seriously at risk.

Silencing women’s voices

The erosion of gender equality institutional mechanisms at national level, coupled with reductions in funding to women’s NGOs, especially those providing vital services, the demand for which is increasing in times of austerity, impacts on women’s capacity to respond in terms of service delivery, protection of women’s rights and advocacy. Austerity is silencing women’s voices.

Recommendations in the study call on Member States to safeguard vital services use gender impact analysis and gender budgeting tools. The European Commission must take a leadership role to halt the damage that is being done in recommending to Member States to reform labour markets and undertake social welfare reforms which are directly resulting in austerity measures. Finally, the study urgently invites women’s NGOs to engage in budgetary processes and to lobby finance ministers.

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