Austerity in Europe hurting women the most

Europe has always been a centre of celebration for human rights, whether for minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups or women. Women’s rights have been granted more than its fair share in Europe, with work ethic and laws put in place to ensure that women get their rights fair and square.

In countries such as Sweden, where recently file sharing was recognized as a ‘religion’, women’s rights have become so powerful that women have generally been assured of state patronage in almost all areas of their lives, from job creation to childcare.

Yet, all that is changing now. As the financial crisis deepens in Europe and austerity looms, women are feeling the pressure more than men. As a result, women are disproportionately affected by the proposed austerity measures. As the main recipients of welfare, public service usage and state funded childcare services, women stand to lose on all fronts when the measures will go into effect.

Women jobless rate

Reports indicate that the jobless rate among women in the eurozone has risen to 12.1 percent as at early this year – the highest figure to be reported in a decade. The figures are much below EU’s formal target of 75 percent employment for both men and women by 2020, with female employment levels in 22 eurozone countries down to 2005 rates.

Figures show that that in Greece and Spain, potential economic hotspots where turbulence has shaken the very foundations of economic activity, more than one fourth of the female labour force is currently unemployed. In Greece, 62.1 percent of young women, by far the highest group among unemployed, are languishing without jobs.
Although a new government is in place, Italian women with children are nine times more likely to be unemployed when compared to the men in Northern Italy - the figure rises for the rest of Italy, painting a bleak picture for a country that prides itself on its women’s rights record. Things are no better in the UK, where 710,000 public sector jobs are expected to be gone by 2017 – as a result, twice as many women than men are expected to lose their jobs.

Fading welfare benefits   

Europe has always provided exceptional child care and welfare benefits. The package of welfare measures for single mothers and women in general have always been good – so good that some women have been deterred from marriage because the state always could take care of the children and provide facilities.

That scenario is changing - the European employment rate of women with children under 12 was on average 12.7 percent lower in 2011 than that of women with no children, illustrating the impact to cuts to care services or rising childcare costs.

In the Netherlands, most parents have received a smaller proportion of their childcare costs back from the tax agency, while in the UK, the state has cut childcare costs from 80 percent to 70 percent.

In France, where women are admired for their sense of style, 67 percent of French women fear they have lost their purchasing power while 45 percent fear a loss of quality of life and 38 percent fear losing their job as a result of the economic crisis, according to a survey.

In Spain, 15 percent rise has been witnessed in female sex workers, with more and more women who have lost their jobs in white-collar industries resorting to the world’s oldest profession out of economic necessity.

Bringing old values back

In Spain, 63,500 businesses run by women have been closed down since 2008. The numbers are climbing and the women are worried.

What do the figures tell – and how can the declining rates be arrested. There doesn’t seem to be much help in sight for Europe, which may not survive the economic disaster without austerity measures. But there are other factors at play here; have the women taken the benefits provided by the state for so long, for granted?

Have they not bothered with building a strong foundation for themselves and their families? Is this in some way related to less and less women and men not bothering with marriage and raising a family in Europe – would things have been different if they have all had the traditional family values of thrift, saving, raising children the old fashioned way in a two income household?

Maybe it is time to go back to the values of the past, irrespective of the progress made in recognizing women’s rights in the eurozone. Maybe it is time to lay aside the politically correct measures and review the way of living, the way of raising kids and above all, the generous welfare measures provided by the state. Only time will tell if Europe and its women learn the lessons the hard way.

(Nayomini, a senior writer, journalist and a PR professional, can be contacted at [email protected])

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