During the past decades, the European Union has undergone a deep financial crisis that has had a significant impact on gender equality. However the impact of the crisis differs significantly from member state to member state. Taking into account the differences between member states, relevant studies have identified general trends with regard to gender and employment.
As the report of the European Network of Experts on Gender Equality (ENEGE) has argued, the gender gaps in employment and wages have been reduced, at least during the initial stages of the economic crisis. This was mainly because the recession first and foremost hit male-dominated sectors, such as the construction industry, and thus reflects the downgrading of male work and wages rather than an improvement in the employment conditions of women. In fact, these reductions in gender employment gaps may manifest biases, such as the lack of effective indicators to measure the spread of precarious, part-time, and occasional employment, which are dominant amongst female workers, as well as the impact on gender equality of the austerity measures adopted by governments against the recession and sovereign debt. If one takes into account how austerity measures, in particular public sector cuts, can impact women, new gender issues and problems arise.
- Public sector cuts are likely to have a deep impact on female employment since the proportion of women in the public sector is very high across Europe. This may in particular affect member states experiencing more severe problems with sovereign debt, recession and unemployment, and undergoing programmes of structural adjustment, which prioritise the reduction of public-sector employees through early pension schemes, hiring freezes, temporary suspensions and lay-offs.
- Public sector cuts also tend to affect the work–life balance, in particular in specific states where they result in the reduction of available places in day care, increases in parents’ contributions, and reduction of types of services available, e.g. all-day schools, but also in the abolishment of child, motherhood and parenthood benefits. These are likely to mostly affect vulnerable groups, such as single-parent families.
- There is evidence to suggest that, at least in certain member states, deregulation of employment relations in the private sector leads to violations of gender equality in employment laws and direct and indirect discrimination against women. For example, the Gender Equality Section of the Greek Ombudsman has reported a rise in violations of women’s rights, such as paid maternity leave, prohibition of dismissals during pregnancy or maternity leave, etc.
- The economic recession and austerity measures have contributed to the spread of the already precarious employment of women. Women in Europe tend to be over-represented in part-time, temporary, occasional, underpaid and undervalued jobs. During the economic crisis precarious forms of employment have spread to new sectors, including male-dominated ones. These processes have been supported by government policies promoting the deregulation of the labour market and undermining previous labour rights policies and labour negotiations. Since these forms of employment are often undeclared, uninsured and insecure they cannot accurately be measured by existing indicators.