23 April, 2013Significant gains achieved in terms of equality between women and men are in jeopardy because of the crisis, particularly at its epicenter in Europe, and the subsequent cuts to social services are also eroding women’s equal opportunities.
These fears were the subject of an extensive discussion by the Women’s Committee of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on 16 & 17 April, where Stephanie Seguino, from Vermont University and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, gave a presentation called The Unholy Trinity: Crisis, Austerity and Gender Inequality.
The idea is the crisis is based on rising inequality, which was the situation before the real crisis broke out. The gap between workers and capital owners does not stop widening. Real wages are falling, and productivity is rising, which means a rise in profits to employers. The gap between men’s and women’s wages was closing, but that was only because men’s wages were dropping. There is a downward harmonization of jobs. Men’s jobs are becoming more like women’s, that is, without stability and benefits.
Single parents and ethnic minorities are the groups that already started the crisis with the greatest economic deficits – they were in the lowest paying jobs, they had few savings and assets, they were more ineligible for unemployment compensation, they were excluded from credit and then included too much in predatory loans. The first round effects of the crisis in general were a widespread destruction of jobs, drying up of credit, drop in tax revenues and rise in government spending. Nevertheless employment was badly distributed with single mothers and ethnic minorities more likely to be out of work. A new term arose, family responsibility discrimination, which describes how employers are reluctant to hire single parents.
The second round of the crisis was marked by a slowing of the hemorrhaging of jobs, an exhaustion of savings, assets and reserves, high rates of joblessness and homelessness, an increase in bankruptcy and poor credit rating. All of these factors meant that more services had to be produced at home with a rise in unpaid care labour. Public debt and deficits kept on rising.
The third round of the crisis is now austerity, the attempt to attack the debts and deficits. The austerity is leading to joblessness, mainly because the middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that was always the backbone of the economy. Income and tax revenues are falling, and debt as a percentage of GDP is going up. The unemployment effects of austerity however must be considered differently. They are the lowest for white men, then white women, after that black men and the hardest hit are black women.
Austerity also has an impact on gender roles. Whoever loses jobs, women are expected to find ways to save money, to look after families and provide more care. Women’s care burdens rise as social spending is cut. Women are up against pressure to make a contribution to family income by working in paid jobs. Men lose their identity as breadwinners, and domestic violence rises. Men often leave the household. The costs of domestic violence are huge.
Austerity has long-term effects on social infrastructures and the economy. The sustainability of policies depends on the social infrastructure. The mistake is that there is too much focus on markets and none on the care sector. The excessive attention to financial markets drives the austerity fixation. We need to reverse the gender, racial and ethnic bias in decision-making. The alternative is investing in infrastructure, in education, childcare, health care, training, food and housing support, roads, transportation, the green economy. These investments more than pay for themselves because they raise productivity, income and ultimately tax revenues.