Billions of Euros in loans have been disbursed by the “troika” of the European Central Bank, IMF, and the European Commission in response to the Eurozone economic crisis, with the conditionality of governments making spending cuts as a part of the agreement.
A report by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), “The Gendered Dimensions of the Eurozone Economic Crisis-An Update” argues that those spending cuts have targeted budgets that are perceived as “soft” like welfare, social spending, health, and education. AWID argues that those disenfranchised by gender, race and class, the elderly, the young, and single and migrant women are bearing the brunt of those cuts. The report focuses primarily on four countries: Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. Greece and Spain have both imposed austerity measures (in addition to the two bailouts Greece has received, totaling €240 billion) that have been widely unpopular with their citizens. Portugal has also implemented unpopular austerity measures including: privatization, public sector wage cuts, reduction in public sector jobs, and increased taxes on some food products. Ireland’s measures included cuts to welfare, increased taxes on low incomes, reduced public service salaries, and reduced pension entitlements. In its report on Ireland, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights concluded that these measures put the most vulnerable at risk and that women were especially vulnerable to the measures.
What AWID found was that in all of these cases in Western Europe the government responses did not take gendered responses seriously enough and that the “gender blindness” of the policies was the cause of this failure to recognize that the policies being implemented would have more severe impacts on women. The report found that women were more vulnerable to pay cuts, loss of work, or increases in unpaid care and domestic work. A report by Transform! argued that women were doubly affected as the principle employees of the public sector and users of social services. There were also some “indirect effects” found in the report as well, as the impacts of policies on underemployed were incomplete, and women make up a larger portion of the underemployed population.
The report also considers what action can be taken to work to improve this problem. One way that these problems are being worked on is through the European Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy, although the main strategy (as pointed out by the report) is focused on achieving greater percentages of women in the workplace by providing adequate child care and flexible work conditions. What is really needed, as argued by many at the 2012 AWID Forum, is cooperation and development of a critical feminist voice. AWID argues that on a macro level the Eurozone crisis is one of existence and a questioning of the very nature of the Eurozone contract, and if this is the case it is critical to have a strong feminist voice contributing to the potential restructuring of the Eurozone. To this end, AWID argues, it is more important to have effective consultative mechanisms in combination with a louder feminist voice than it is to simply have more women in the top ranks of the European Commission. The place to start getting these voices heard, they argue, is with the European Commission and European Parliament because they both have a requirement that consultation must be done with stakeholders before making any proposals.