What Does Austerity Mean for Women in Europe?

Austerity measures, which have been introduced throughout Europe as result of the financial crisis, have disproportionally affected women. The financial crisis initially referred to as a “he-cession” because men’s unemployment rates grew faster in male dominated sectors of the economy at the beginning of the crisis, now shows that cuts and wage freezes in public sector jobs have disproportionally affected women since they are overrepresented in this sector. It is therefore time to speak of a “she-(re)cession”.

In addition to the rising unemployment and wage freezes, cuts in vital services such as childcare and elder care are being reprivatized which means that the care responsibilities are being transferred from the society to families, i e. women are being pushed back to performing informal care for their family members while also juggling with paid employment, usually part-time. At the same time, public ‘savings’ are being made in essential policies that would facilitate women and men’s equal sharing of care such as paid paternity and parental leave.

Cutbacks have also been made in the funding of national equality bodies, advocacy groups, hotlines and front-line services for victims of violence. These cuts make women’s voices even less heard in society and compel NGOs providing vital services to women to reduce their services, at a time when these voices and services are needed more than ever.

Women and men’s employment rates, employment patterns, working conditions and salaries are converging but this is a result of a deterioration of both women and men’s situation and not a sign of increased gender equality.

The crisis has undermined years of progress towards women’s integration in the labour market. Women’s average employment rates, which had been steadily increasing prior to the financial crisis has stagnated and in 12 EU member states, women’s employment rates have even declined.

Accumulated inequality throughout women’s lives is mirrored in the gender pension gap which currently is on average 39% in the EU. Austerity is compromising women’s economic independence and equality between women and men.

The video-clip aims to raise awareness and to put pressure on governments and European policy-makers to apply a gender impact assessment to correct and prevent the deepening of a “she-(re)cession”. The economy must serve the needs of women, men, girls and boys in Europe and not the other way around.