The gender impact of Europe’s recession

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

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4 Responses to “The gender impact of Europe’s recession”
  1. Ken Smith

    I don’t want to come across as an old caveman but wouldn’t education level and location be better predictors of poverty at least in the UK than gender ? and if that is the case aren’t governments right to target subsidies regionally at large local employers of low skilled workers eg car plants and construction ?

    Duncan: interesting question, Ken. Is it easier to target low skill/educational level sectors in male dominated jobs like car plants and construction because those sectors are easier to identify and reach, or is it possible to target low skill/educational level sectors that mainly employ women – what would be the equivalent sectors?

  2. Ken Smith

    I’d say the equivalent sector that has traditionally employed low skill/educational level women has been motherhood and the government targets subsidies to it through child benefits , sure start centres etc. Sorry if that makes me even more of a caveman.

  3. Pete

    My understanding is that the support of the car industry was to prevent the closure of the manufacturing plants as they are very capital intensive and once gone would not come back. The short term support was to protect the investment through the huge slump as people delayed buying a new car. It wasn’t about regional support or support for low skilled workers of either gender. Shops, on the other hand, can be resurrected when the economy improves.

    Does the report just talk about those directly employed in the supported industries? Or does it also look at the gender balance of those whose livelihoods indirectly rely on these businesses?

    It appears to me that most capital intensive industries are male dominated (I wonder why) – the only exception I can think of are hospitals. It makes sense to me that government intervention should protect capital investments through a cash-flow crisis like this recession (as long as the businesses are viable in the long term), irrespective of the make up of the workforce.

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