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Ensuring gender equality in times of crisis is not luxury policy but an investment for the future!

On Monday, FEPS organised a fringe roundtable discussion on “Woman up!” enhancing women’s employment opportunities in the frame of this 3rd edition of the Call to Europe entitled “Beyond austerity: Building European solidarity”.

 

Together with the other speakers Cécile Gréboval, Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby, Jérôme de Henau, Lecturer in Economics at the Open University and Marcella Corsi, Professor of Economics at the Sapienza University of Rome, we all underlined that gender equality in times of crisis is an investment for the future, not a burden or a luxury policy. As Jérôme de Henau explained, even if there had not been a crisis, the inequalities between women and men in terms of working conditions would have worsened. The crisis only emphasizes this trend and therefore we need to fight it to avoid long-term backlash.

First, we discussed the consequences of the crisis on women and gender equality. Because of the “fiscal consolidation” - as referred to by the European Commission for the austerity-only approach adopted by all the Conservative governments throughout Europe and at European level – we witness:

  • important cuts in the public sector, where women are mainly employed
  • cuts in the wages and pensions
  • a decrease in women’s employment rate
  • an increase of forced part-time work for both women and men
  • “womenization” of the working conditions, which is synonym for a deterioration of working conditions for both women and men
  • Reduction of public funding for women’s rights and gender equality bodies and programmes

These issues have all been highlighted in the European Women’s Lobby study: The Price of Austerity: The Impact on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Europe, based on contributions from the EWL membership, which represent more than 2,500 member organisations in 30 countries.

It is to fight against these trends and to prevent gender gaps to grow that PES Women has been launching its campaign: “Gender Pay Gap, shut it!” calling for :

1-     A Gender Pay Gap Audit to check whether all Member States efficiently engage on reducing this gapfor all age groups by 2% per year and per Member States, until equality in wages has been reached

2-     Improving the implementation of anti-discrimination and gender equality legislation, including through the application of clear and dissuasive sanctions, both at national and at European level

3-     Appointment of a European Commissioner for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights fully engaged on the issue of gender pay gap as of 2014

Moreover, we all emphasized that public care services and facilities are being dismantled putting back the burden on households and more specifically on women, as traditional gender roles are still very much embedded. Considering that today’s middle-aged women are “sandwich-generation women”, who have to take care of their children as well as their ageing parents or grandparents, it is therefore crucial to improve reconciliation between professional and private life. This can be done through sound parental, maternal and paternal leave schemes, a more equal men’s participation in domestic work at home as well as the professionalization of the care sector. Reducing working-time for both women and men could also be a way to advance work-life balance and to give a true choice to young women regarding maternity.

The European Institutions and the Member States do not always include a gender perspective in their work and programmes, whereas gender is a cross-cutting issue, as recalled by Marcella Corsi. For instance, the EU 2020 Strategy, which frames the priorities of the European Union until 2020, does not have any specific gender targets. Not recognizing this diversity of actors is harmful and prevents the EU to find new ways out of the crisis. So, if gender equality is an added challenge in the crisis, it is also the key out of the crisis! 

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