The gender impact of Europe’s recession

April 13, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

A recent report by Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme looks at the impact of the global economic crisis on Europe’s women. Based on research in ten EU member states, the report finds (among other things):

‘The impact of the recession is significant and damaging for both men and women living in poverty. This report tracks the impact for women as a whole, and particularly for members of vulnerable groups, who face multiple disadvantages. The latter are likely to include the young and the elderly, migrants and ethnic minorities, the low-skilled, those with short-term contracts, single mothers, women in rural areas, those aged over 45, and women with disabilities.

Priorities for government action are often based on a norm, which prioritises subsidies to, for example, car plants and the construction industry which tend to employ men, over subsidies to sectors such as textiles or retail which employ more women.

Reductions in public expenditure will always have a major – and disproportionate – impact on women’s livelihoods, as women are in the majority in the public sector workforce. For example, across the EU, whereas 80 per cent of construction workers are male, 78 per cent of health and social services workers, and over 60 per cent of teachers in primary and secondary education, are female.

The impact of the recession on women is likely to become more acute over time as the effects of labour-market shifts are increasingly felt within households, and cuts in public expenditure affect public services and the many women who work in them and use them.’

One conclusion from all this, is that ‘gender budgeting should be adopted as a standard approach to assess spending on men and women within economic recovery plans and other public budget processes. Alternative accounting measures should also be developed to ensure that women’s unpaid activities in the reproductive economy are recognised in systems of national accounts.’ In policy terms, if you don’t measure it, it doesn’t really exist……

For more, check out Oxfam’s genderworks project on gender and poverty in Europe