UN: Austerity hurts services vital to gender equality

Gender inequality.

Women earn on average 16% less than men in the EU. [(Alex/Flickr)]

Spending cuts are hurting public and social services that give women the chance to find paid work, independence and a chance at equality, a UN report warns.

The United Nations’ organisation for gender equality, UN Women, said in a major study that millions of women around the world are still consigned to low-paid, poor quality jobs.

Across the world, the report reveals that women are paid 24% less than men, and this gender pay gap widens for women with children.

“From Wall Street to the sugar cane fields, the gender norms that work against women are strong,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women.

One major problem is that women still carry the burden of work in the home, whether it is caring for children or older people or walking miles (kilometres) each day to fetch water.

“Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne by women and girls,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women.

>>Read: Gender inequality persists in Europe

The report noted how the extension of childcare, maternity and paternity leave helped women into employment, which in turn gave them and their families a chance at a better life. Laws regulating domestic work and outlawing gender discrimination and the minimum wage also helped reduce poverty and bring down the barriers to equality, it said.

But in European countries, austerity measures are threatening public services, warned co-author Laura Turquet.

“The austerity measures are a women’s rights issue in terms of cuts in public services, and those in particular impact on women because they tend to be over-represented in public sector jobs as well,” she said.

Rather than suggest that such public services were unaffordable, she said governments should view them as capital investments akin to infrastructure. Noting that women are currently providing many care services without any financial compensation, she said: “It’s about redistributing who pays for it and who carries that burden.”

>>Read: EU seen as dragging its feet on gender equality

The report also finds that women are more likely to work in undervalued occupations. 83% of domestic workers are women, and almost half of them are not entitled to a minimum wage.

The EU situtation

A new report published on Monday (27 April) by the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, showed that 9.8 million part-time workers in the EU in 2014 were under-employed meaning that they wanted to work more hours but were unavailable to do so.

The large majority of these underemployed part-time workers in the EU were women (67%) with huge differences across member states.

Underemployed part-time workers were predominantly women in every EU member state except in Romania and Slovakia. In Luxembourg, 77% were women, and in France and Austria the figure was 74%.

Gender equality in employment was included in the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957. The first piece of secondary EU legislation was the Equal Pay Directive of 1975, which prohibited discrimination on grounds of gender to all aspects of remuneration.

In November 2012, the Commission proposed a directive on gender balance on company boards, setting a 40% quota of women on non-executive directors. The text is stuck in the Council.

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