When the heads of state and government meet next week to negotiate Europe’s economic recovery, there will be women sitting at the table – however, they hardly play a role in the recovery plan itself. A petition wants to change this.
Even if the Commission has set itself the goal to “leave no one behind” in the context of the European Green Deal or the recovery, the Recovery Plan appears to ignore 50 % of female Europeans. It is a well-known fact that women were on the frontline in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, be it as care workers, in retail or as medical staff. At the same time, women and the sectors, in which they are strongly represented, are disproportionally affected by unemployment and reduced working hours – also because they shoulder the majority of care work due a lack of institutionalised childcare. If the latter takes place parallel to working from home, it will once again be women, who do more care work and as a result scale back professionally, even though both parents are at home. The asymmetric impact of the Coronavirus crisis on men and women, which in its worst form manifests in domestic violence, could provide the opportunity to also make a great leap forward in matters of equality.
Recovery Plan: Green, digital and unjust.
From a gender perspective, the Commission has already missed this chance due to the priorities of the Recovery Plan. A systematic view of the impact of financial aids on gender equality, for example in form of a gender impact assessment, which is obligatory within the scope of the self-imposed Gender Mainstreaming, has so far not taken place. In spite of clear contract rules, according to which all EU activities must contribute to gender equality and the Gender Equality Strategy, which was published this year, gender-specific differences are neither mentioned nor specifically targeted. A study commissioned by the European Greens on these gender-specific effects, finds that the mobilised financial aids within the framework of the “Next Generation EU” tools and the InvestEU Programme advantage male sectors, for example the construction, transport and energy sector. There is currently no hope for workers in the worst affected sectors, among other the education, healthcare, social and services sector as well as domestic services and the hotel and restaurant industry, where women are strongly overrepresented, to receive any equally generous financial aid. Another point of criticism from a gender perspective is the leading part of the European Semester in drawing EU aid money. In the past, its country-specific recommendations, insisting on cost efficiency, have often proved counterproductive to strengthening the care sector.
Gender-equal structure benefits all
In fact, there would be an effective concept to sustainably promote the often cited “resilience” of European economies: investments in care infrastructures would create jobs and thereby generate a higher economic added value - to the advantage of women, who mainly work in this sector. The appeal of the sector, whose growth potential with view on the demographic change is undisputed, would expand through improved working conditions. In addition to the Green Deal and digital transformation, the huge financial efforts should flow into a gender-equal restructuring of care work – into a European Care Deal.
Petition demands #halfofit
In order to counter the Commission’s ignorance towards gender equality, the German Green MEP Alexandra Geese launched the Petition #halfofit, which promotes a gender-sensitive disbursal of financial aid of the recovery fund and the MFF. Supported by numerous scientists and MEPs, among them the chair of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Evelyn Regner (S&D), the signatories demand a stringent gender-sensitive analysis of the resources of the Recovery Fund and the application of gender budgeting. This shall guarantee that at least 50 % of the aid money will benefit women. Apart from investments in childcare infrastructures and an equal distribution of care work, businesses led by women shall also be supported by a special fund. Businesses, which benefit of state aid and funds, shall in turn promote women in leadership positions and support gender equality in their companies.
The Commission is required to implement promises by the Gender Equality Strategy and not to turn its back on women in the economic recovery. Missing this opportunity could result in increased economic uncertainty and put female Europeans even more at risk of poverty. If this would happen, hard fought for gender equality policy successes would be thrown back decades.