Gender and Austerity: The Feminization of Economic Crisis Response
Austerity measures are incredibly common in the news and in attempts to control currently faltering economies and are under a lot of fire because of their class-based impacts, but where does austerity have gendered impacts? First off, austerity measures are policy packages aimed at reducing deficits by making large cuts to spending (particularly social spending), benefits (like welfare) and public services (like transportation). Public sector layoffs and tax hikes can also be part of the deal. Here’s a breakdown by the Guardian of what kinds of things faced austerity cuts across Europe in 2010 (from public sector pay cuts in Ireland to closing hospitals and schools in Latvia).
A brief list of some of the ways in which austerity’s impacts have a serious gender component:
- When class is an issue, so is gender. This is because globally women are more likely to live in poverty, have lower incomes, and are less likely to own private property (only 2% of the world’s private property is under female ownership) and private wealth. Austerity measures often lead to the ongoing “feminization” of poverty, driving women further into economic inequality. Women make less than their male counterparts and therefore as a group suffer more from the across the board pay cuts and freezes typical of austerity measures.
- Since the public sector and its employees bear the weight of austerity, it’s worth noting that women are the majority of public sector workers in both Britain and in the United States. In the US, they have made up an even greater percentage of the public sector workers who have lost their jobs and women have been slower to gain jobs than men, furthering gendered economic inequality.
- Women also rely more on welfare programs, which are prime candidates for the austerity guillotines. As are important programs for parental leave and child and elder care - all benefits of which women typically make greater use.
- Education price hikes in the UK have had gendered consequences on university attendance: male school attendance dropped 7 percent in 2012, but female school attendance dropped even more at -10.5%.
- A number of cities across the United States are selectively shutting off street lights at night to cut down their electricity bills. A simple enough solution, but one done with little regard to the notion that crime, particularly rape and sexual assault, is known to rise in poorly lit areas. Shutting off the lights at night makes cities more dangerous places, particularly for women who might be returning home from late shifts.
Photo: A woman shouts during an October anti-austerity rally in Athens. Credit: Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters
- Macleavy, Julie. “A ‘new politics’ of austerity, workfare and gender? The UK coalition government’s welfare reform proposals.“ Cambridge JOurnal of Regions, Economy and Society. November 2011.
- Michalitsch, Gabriele. “Austerity Promotes Gender Hierarchies.” Social Europe Journal. 22 Feb. 2011.