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20 January 2014

Is gender equality now a luxury in the crisis?

The ETUI’s first "monthly forum" for 2014 held on 15 January heard Manchester University’s Jill Rubery speak on the topic "Women and Austerity". Professor Rubery is the co-editor of a recent book The Economic Crisis and the Future for Gender Equality with Maria Karamessini examining how women are faring on the labour market in nine countries, some of them very hard hit by the crisis*.

The data collected by the researchers show that the crisis has effectively narrowed the gender employment gap by worsening men’s labour market situation. Business restructuring in traditionally male sectors – manufacturing, building, etc. – has led to mass redundancies, leaving a bigger share of women as the family’s sole bread-winner.

This new situation has just added to the pressure on them, as their work becomes essential to keep the family economically afloat while the burden of their unpaid work (childcare, housework, etc.) has not gone down. Deep cuts in education and personal care provision have also reduced their access to outside support. In countries subject to the most drastic public debt reduction programmes, public service staffing cuts have hit highly qualified women hardest, as the researchers found in Greece.

Austerity policies have also had a big impact on public policies to reduce gender inequalities. "Gender equality is treated as a luxury good. Something non essential in the period of crisis", declared Jill Rubery. Spain, for instance, has scrapped its Equality Ministry, while Ireland’s gender mainstreaming system has suffered the same fate. Professor Rubery called for men and women to mobilize in defence of public services to break free of austerity policies and their impact on women.

*Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Hungary, United Kingdom, Italy, Iceland, United States.

Further reading:

  • Rubery J. and Karamessini M. (2013) Women and Austerity.The Economic Crisis and the Future for Gender Equality, Routledge, 368 p. Book description.
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