Gender equality: can the economic crisis be turned into an opportunity?

On 6 March 2013, the European Parliament organised a press seminar about the effects of the economic crisis on gender equality. Silvana Koch-Mehrin moderated the seminar.

The crisis is aggravating existing inequality between men and women, but should it be seized as an opportunity to do something about it? Parliament organised a conference on women’s response to the crisis to discuss with members of national parliaments what could be done about issues such as unemployment, the pay gap, gender stereotypes and gender-biased economic policies. Gender equality was mooted as being key to restoring growth and prosperity.

Sylvia Walby, a sociology professor at Lancaster University, pointed out that the crisis was affecting men and woman differently: “Countries have made a choice not to increase tax on the richest, mostly men, but to rather cut public expenditure that hurts mostly women.”

Participants said policy-makers should see the crisis as a chance to re-evaluate existing measures. Italian Social Democrat Gianni Pittella, the EP’s vice- president, said : “Women are more affected by public expenditure cuts. That is why we have to use the crisis as an opportunity to reassess policies.”

One of the problems discussed was that women are still being evaluated differently when applying for jobs. Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, vice-chair of the EP’s women’s rights committee, said: “When recruiting women, employers’ first three criteria are whether she has children, availability and physical appearance. When men are being employed, those criteria are professional experience, qualification and availability.” Ms Morin-Chartier, a French member of the EPP group, has written a report titled  “impact of the economic crisis on gender equality and women’s rights”, which will be voted on in plenary.

Employment commissioner László Andor highlighted the precarious work situation of many women. “More women work part-time. That means less security, less training opportunities, less money and less pension entitlements.”

The meeting also looked at concrete solutions. One of them was suggested by Sasha Bezuhanova, who works for Hewlett-Packard:  “Working from home is a practice that has to be promoted.”