For all intents and purposes, women and men in the EU have the same rights. At least on paper, as formal equality is confronted with structural imbalances in numerous areas.
This week, the European Parliament has adopted three reports: a general Equality Report, a report on the lack of implementation of an already adopted Directive on equal access to and supply of goods and services, and a report on EU funds for gender equality.
The range of the topics and areas covered renders the complexity of discrimination more visible. To name just two examples: fathers still hardly have access to public changing tables, in spite of having a valid ticket, pregnant women are refused to board a plane due to their pregnancy. Gender pay gaps, gender pension gaps, the number of women in managerial positions and political decision-making bodies, the unequal distribution of time and a number of other indicators of gender inequalities remain constantly poor. In some cases, they even get worse. At the same time, EU-wide funds for gender equality measures have decreased as a consequence of austerity policy. In particular the example of so-called structural adjustment programmes shows why political measures have to be reviewed with regard to gender-specific effects prior to their implementation, as one of the adopted reports soon might require.
That is to say that austerity policy does not only result in cutting funds for specific measures concerning gender equality. As has also been discussed within the scope of the Feminist Forum Week, which had been organised as part of International Women's Day in the European Parliament, massive cuts of social benefits in the health and education system affect predominantly those sectors, where most of the employees are female. Cuts in these sectors result in casualization, increased and often imposed part-time employment or even unemployment. By rolling public funds back, women are further disadvantaged as they are still considered the main providers of care and household duties. If public services are removed, women step in to replace them. At the same time there is less money available to outsource this care work in form of private services. Once again, it is women, possibly with migration experiences, who lose their job and their income. Hence, due to austerity measures women have to work more and at the same time face worse conditions for doing so - both in the paid as well as in the unpaid domain.
Gender-specific effects of austerity policies can already be observed in Austria. They are, however, ever more prominent in countries, such as Portugal, Spain or Greece that are particularly strongly affected by structural adjustment programmes. The possibility of diverse impacts of neoliberal projects on diverse groups should have been explicitly considered, as the effects of already implemented reforms in Latin American or Asian countries could have been taken into account prior to the implementation of such programmes at an EU-level.
Equality policy must not be allowed to fall victim to neoliberal reforms. Apart from clearly negative social impacts, a lack of equality is also accompanied by economic costs, as shown by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which is associated with the European Commission. Hence, austerity policy exacerbates social and economic inequalities resulting in the fact that the most vulnerable groups have to bear the costs of creeping budget consolidation. An AK study clearly shows the variety of positive effects public investments in social services can have. For instance, increased funds for child care facilities might not only result in the improved compatibility of parenthood and employment. They can also create new jobs and give women the opportunity to a chose full-time employments, thereby generating a higher income, which in turn may have a positive impact on domestic demand and finally on economic growth and public revenue. Public investments already pay off in medium term. In the long term, it is more expensive not to intervene in gender inequalities and social benefit deficits. Hence, it is time to put an end to neoliberal reforms, which funds the wellbeing of a few at the expense of all - anybody who wants to support countries put under pressure, needs to campaign for equality instead of enlarging inequalities even more because of a misguided austerity policy!