EWL News

Gender-blind austerity measures to undermine recovery, says European Women’s Lobby

[Brussels, 28 June 2012] European Commissioners covering economic and social affairs heard yesterday that gender-blind cuts in public spending were set sabotage the EU’s ‘jobs and growth’ agenda. Olli Rehn, Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, and Laszlo Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, were presented today in the European Parliament with a set of alternative ‘country specific recommendations’ by a coalition of NGOs and national green parties.

The EU and its Member States have committed to reaching five headline targets by the year 2020, including raising the employment rate of 20-64 year-old women and men to 75% and reducing the number of those at risk of poverty and social exclusion by at least 20 million. Each year, the Commission sets out national recommendations in a view to meeting these targets on the basis of analysis of National Reform Programmes and National Stability and Convergence Programmes submitted by Member States.

Campaigners for women’s rights have from the start been vocal in highlighting how tackling gender inequalities on the labour market and in economic and social and macro-economic policies is crucial if the EU is to meet the 2020 objectives.

Women’s employment rate lags men’s across the EU, and their risk of poverty and social exclusion is consequently substantially higher in every member state. While women are 59% of university graduates in Europe, their average employment rate is under 60%, with figures as low as 43,4% in Malta. Women represent two-thirds of the 63 million adults classified as ‘inactive’. When employed, their hourly wages are on average 17% lower than men’s. In addition, 32% of women work part-time, as compared to less than 8% of men.

Certain groups of women are particularly vulnerable, facing even more obstacles on the job-market and beyond. For instance, 63% of women aged 55-64, as compared to 45% of men, are unemployed. If the policy priority of aligning the retirement age of women and men areis not accompanied by measures to boost older women’s employment women will remain unemployed for longer with the result that their pension entitlements will not guarantee a dignified living wage as they age. in comparison to their male counterparts.

In addition, the economic and financial crisis has hit women hard: ‘Despite commitments, we now have a whole series of budget cuts which are disproportionately affecting women through job losses and reductions in public services’, said Mary Collins of the the European Women’s Lobby. ‘Women make up more than half the population; there will be no recovery if public policies do not systematically address the gender dimension.’

At the event, the EWL pointed out that the key missing element is a clear objective to ensure equality between women and men in reaching all targets. All too often, recommendations to Member States focus on issues that are seen to be a ‘women’s problem’ such as increasing childcare measures to facilitate women’s participation in the labour-market. In its alternative recommendations, the EWL members call for measures that will enable both women and men to become equal earners and equal carers. Pressing care needs in the context of an ageing society are a collective concern and need public funds to invest in this high-potential job growth sector which should attract both women and men by improving working conditions and pay.

In order to strive towards a gender equal society, the EWL members call for parity democracy, across the spectrum of private and political life. Legally binding measures are crucial to increase women’s share in decision-making, in the economic ‘architecture’ – including on corporate boards, science, research, politics, and public administration. The blatant absence of half of Europe’s population is a democratic deficit. Macro-economic policies and sustainable solutions to the deepening crisis must include women at every level of decision-making. Gender blind austerity measures undermine recovery.

Violence against women is also a barrier to women’s full participation in all aspects of life. EWL members call for a coherent strategy that addresses all forms of violence against women, in public and private life, including on the labour-market. Members also call for a greater consulation with women’s organisations when drafting the National Reform Programmes to ensure that women’s voices are heard in this process, and the recommendations they make are taken on board.

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