[Brussels, 10 October 2012] EWL members in Ireland last week organised a conference bringing to light the gender-skewed impact of national austerity measures. The conference ‘Bearing The Brunt? Women and the Recession’ was covered in the Irish Times newspaper:
[The Irish Times, 09 October 2012] Sectors of the population dominated by women have become “special targets” in [Irish] Government efforts to cut costs, a foremost expert on social policy has said.
Dr Pauline Conroy, speaking at a conference on the impact of the recession on women, said lone parents and the low-paid had been targeted disproportionately by austerity policies and worsening working conditions.
The conference, Bearing The Brunt? Women and the Recession, was hosted by the National Women’s Council of Ireland in conjunction with the equality and economic think tank Tasc.
Orla O’Connor, chief executive of the council, said despite increasing evidence that the crisis was affecting women more harshly public discussion and policy development were not informed by gender analysis.
Dr Conroy said there was in fact a “reduction in the visibility of gender” and that it was becoming more difficult to get gender desegregated data.
She said, however, that analyses of household debt showed households headed by mothers, particularly single mothers, were more likely than male-headed households to be in debt with utility providers and to have debts with “loan sharks”.
Quoting British economist Guy Standing, she referred to the emergence of a new “class” which he has called the “precariat” – people whose employment is uncertain, such as part-time workers, agency workers and people on zero-hour contracts.
This class was growing as the recession made it easier for employers to attack working conditions and it was dominated by women, she said.
Dr Ursula Barry, lecturer and researcher in the school of social justice at UCD, said that while there was a risk of poverty among the general population of 16 per cent, the risk among lone parents was now 35 per cent and among families with children was 19 per cent.
She too referred to the “spread of zero-hour contracts” particularly among women, saying they created working conditions like those of the dockers in 1913, where “you’re on call waiting to find out if you can work today”.
She said lone parents in particular were a particular target for policy measures arising from the crisis.
Citing the plan from the Department of Social Protection to compel recipients of the lone parents’ payment to move on to a job-seeker’s allowance once their youngest child reached seven years of age, she asked: “Why is this group of mothers being singled out for activation? Why is activation only an issue for single mothers? How is policy discriminating against a specific section?”
Looking at pay cuts in the public sector, she said the worst affected had been teachers and student nurses, both sectors dominated by women.
She said an intergenerational and gender inequality was emerging that was “particularly insidious”.
Thora Thorsdottir of the University of Iceland said gender had been an important factor in tackling the crisis in Iceland.
“Gender equality has been protected in Iceland because the government made gender a central issue in their approach.”
Ms O’Connor said Ireland could learn a lot from the Icelandic approach where there had been a clear commitment to gender equality.
“Budgets are about choices. The National Women’s Council calls on the Government to protect women’s equality in budget 2013 and put equality at the centre of their approach.”
by KITTY HOLLAND