Gender in times of economic crisis
Even though there are some positive trends towards a more gender-equal society and labour market, gender inequalities persist. The current economic crisis has also raised concerns that the achievements in gender equality are at risk and that the effects of the recession will put greater pressure on women. (COM(2009)694 final p.3)
It is evident that gender issues are often put on hold in times of cutbacks and economic restraint. When this happens, gender equality initiatives are implicitly viewed as a cost able to be deferred. Sometimes gender equality is even seen as hindering economic growth, since it is often viewed in a short-term cost perspective (Smith and Bettio 2008). This is deeply problematic given the vast evidence to the contrary.
The current economic crisis is severe and adds to already existing problems. The work of the Gender-CoP has shown that all “exit strategies” must be built on a proper analysis of existing inequalities in order not to rebuild the economy based on the same (unequal) structures or, even worse, to increase existing inequalities.
Both the consequences of, and efforts to deal with the economic crisis affect women and men differently. Tax reductions and cutbacks in the public sector have clearly gendered implications that are important to analyse both prior to public interventions, i.e. in the planning stage, and when evaluating their outcomes.
By identifying gender inequalities that still exist in the labour market, and ensuring that budget allocations are devoted to combating these inequalities, the ESF can ensure that the necessary measures are taken in the current times of economic restraint to help the EU out of the current crisis. It can also contribute to ensuring that measures taken to solve the economic crisis do not have a negative effect on women’s labour market situation.
The economic case for gender equality
The economic case for gender equality focuses on the relevance and impact of gender equality policies at an aggregated level. It provides a perspective that is long-term rather than short-term. The importance of including strong gender-equality policies as a component of economic growth strategies can be seen in many different areas including employment rates, pay offs of investments in education, flexible work force, social inclusion, utilization of unpaid work, fiscal benefits, fertility rates, etc.
Gender equality is necessary in order to deal with the major European challenges resulting from existing inequalities, such as the current demographic challenges of an ageing population, shrinking workforce, and falling fertility rates, which need to be analysed from a gender perspective.
Not just any job – but a decent job!
When working with a gender perspective in labour and growth strategies, one important objective is to raise the proportion of women in the workforce. Reaching this target involves working with gender segregation in the labour market, reconciliation issues, and barriers to women’s entrepreneurship, but it also means dealing with discrimination and harassment problems as well as work-related health problems caused by poor working conditions and unhealthy working environments. It is important to recognize the need for both individual and institutional approaches, i.e. to work on both the “supply” and “demand” sides.
It is also important to recognize the steps that need to be taken in order to create jobs for both women and men that strengthen economic independence, have acceptable working conditions and a salary that grants economic self-sufficiency – as both of these latter aspects are clearly gendered. Recent years have seen growing levels of “precarious work” in Europe.
Precarious work means jobs that are insecure, are temporary, have poor working conditions and offer a salary that makes it impossible to become economically independent. Recent trends show an overrepresentation of women in these kinds of employment conditions.
This means in some cases that women are entering the labour market in jobs which are not in line with the EU objective of economical indepencendence. This endangers the overall aims of gender equality policies in the EU and is fuelling problems such as the Gender Pay Gap.
Gender inequalities in the labour market must be handled in a holistic manner in order to achieve a sustainable improvement. This means that the impact of other policies concerning such things as care for children or the elderly, insurance systems and taxation have tremendous effects on the situation of women and men on the labour market.
EU2020 and three flagships
EU 2020 constitutes the strategic framework for the next Structural Funds programming period. Firm in the belief that sustainable growth requires agreement on an agenda that puts people and responsibility first, we consider one of the most sustainable and effective ways to achieve such growth to be to take a gender perspective into account in the new EU 2020 strategy. Although gender equality issues are referred to in some cases, the EU 2020 and its Flagship Initiatives are far from achieving a coherent integration of gender equality and gender mainstreaming.