Women chant slogans in front of the Greek Parliament during an anti-austerity protest in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 3 2011. put a European rescue protest (Kostas Tsironis) Are women the winners of the financial crisis? A recent report by the European Commi …

Aurélie Wielchuda Women
Women chant slogans in front of the Greek Parliament during an anti-austerity protest in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 3 2011. put a European rescue protest (Kostas Tsironis)

Women chant slogans in front of the Greek Parliament during an anti-austerity protest in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 3 2011. put a European rescue protest (Kostas Tsironis)

Are women the winners of the financial crisis?

A recent report by the European Commission shows that the gap between men and women has been reduced greatly in matters such as employment, unemployment rates, wages and poverty. Women have often been seen as a buffer of the employment market. Yet, this crisis has shown that couples in which the woman is the only breadwinner have increased by 10 per cent and that the gap in unemployment rates between men and women has been greatly reduced, which would make one think that women have been benefiting from the crisis.

The decline of the pay gap between men and women: a good news?

Sadly, the decline of the pay gap between men and women – which is nonetheless at 27 per cent as of today – has little to do with an improvement in women’s wages, but rather with a tougher decrease of wages for men. More women are working for the public sector, which offers less possibility for wages flexibility in most countries. Women are also much more often paid the minimum wage than men, which makes it de facto harder to decrease their salaries. The same is to be applied to part-time work, traditionally more to be found in women’s employment.

Since the beginning of the crisis, more and more women have been working. This isn’t the result of functioning gender equality policies, but a consequence of in work poverty. Women who were traditionally out of the job market have been forced to start looking for a job as a result of the breadwinner’s unemployment or salary decrease. All in all, the decline of the gap between men and women in employment matters is a race to the bottom and can hardly be qualified as progress.

Austerity, a gendered plague

Budget cuts in public spending such as unemployment policies, education or health have had disastrous consequences for men and women in all countries. Yet, because women are generally more dependant on governmental programmes, austerity has hit them harder. Cuts in public spending have also consequences on communication campaigns on violence and abuse against women, shelters and hotlines for women victims of violence and gender equality policies all in all, leading to an extremely worrying increase of gendered violence and a step back in gender equality.

A step back in the role of women in society

Austerity also means that women are being pushed back to their traditional role as caretakers. Because of the cuts in maternity leaves allowances, child’s benefits or pensions, women are more and more pushed to take care of the most fragile members of our society to relieve states from their obligations.

Elderly poverty is also a source of worry. There is a 39 per cent gap in pensions between men and women, meaning that more and more women are unable to support themselves in old age, which jeopardizes their independence as well as the independence of their daughters and granddaughters.

Austerity has failed in Europe and it is time to make economy serve the people again and not the other way around.


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Aurélie Wielchuda

Aurélie is a feminist based in Brussels.

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