Saturday, June 11, 2016

Gender equality in times of inequality, crisis and austerity: towards gender-sensitive macroeconomic policies. 1/5

“Equal pay for equal work is a founding principle of the European Union, but sadly is still not yet a reality for women in Europe.” Former EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding made this remark on European Equal Pay Day - February 28 2014 - 59 days after the start of the year. 

She chose this date to mark the end of a period in which, given the gender pay gap (16.4% - EC, 2014a), women effectively work without pay. This gap is one indicator of an unequal world in which, for instance, a CEO of one of the FTSE 100 firms in the UK would only have to work one and a half days to earn the annual salary of an average social care worker (High Pay Centre, 2014). These gaps reflect both rising inequality and the persistence of gender inequality - conditions that result from the pursuit of neoliberal economic policies and associated priority given to the economy over society. 

The scale of contemporary income and earnings inequality has generated widespread public concern, demonstrated by activist movements such as Occupy, and is now evident among more orthodox world leaders, some of whom have called for a more inclusive form of capitalism to ensure political and social stability and economic growth. 

In 2014, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, pointed out that inequality is returning to levels not seen since the onset of the 1929 recession; Pope Francis tweeted that inequality was “the root of social evil”; and European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker said that “it is not compatible with the social market economy that during a crisis, ship-owners and speculators become even richer, while pensioners can no longer support themselves” (EC, 2014b). 

By contrast, gender inequality has not aroused the same degree of public interest, even though women continue to be disadvantaged in the labour market, underrepresented in decision-making and are more likely than men to experience domestic violence (EC, 2014c). Indeed, women are, as Lagarde put it, “underutilised, underpaid, under-appreciated and over-exploited”. What makes this situation in Europe surprising is that there have been five decades of equality policies. 

So why have gender equality policies not been more effective and what scope is there for such policies in times of austerity? This essay addresses these questions and argues that only by ensuring that the economy serves societies rather than vice versa will it be possible to realise the EU’s objectives for sustainable and inclusive development and make it more likely that gender inequality will be resolved.

 By Diane Perrons

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