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Fast Facts: Gender social inequality and austerity in Europe

23700472_sEurope’s austerity fetish and longer term neo-liberal reforms promoted by Big Business, Governments and the EU Commission hurt women disproportionately. Here’s a few facts to illustrate the point.

Europe wide 

  • The gender pay gap is around 16%
  • It ranges from more than a quarter (27%) in Estonia to around a fiftieth (2%) in Slovenia. The latest figures from Eurostat suggest that at least until 2010, the gender pay gap appears to have been narrowing. However, there was no further progress in 2011.
  • The gender gap in pensions is currently 39% on average in the EU – largely a result of the gender pay gap
  • Across the European Union, the poverty rate of women is higher than of men: it is at 17.1 % against 15.7 % for men (data from 2010). The gaps in poverty levels to the detriment of women are highest in Romania, Sweden, Austria and Italy (about 3 percentage points). Conversely, only Hungary shows a higher poverty rate for men with a rather small gap (+0.6 percentage points). Denmark and Poland are the most egalitarian countries (0.3 percentage points of difference).

Sources: EPSU ; European Women’s Lobby ; Inequality Watch


  • …has fallen back to 14 points in the overall index of gender equality (World Economic Forum).
  • Spanish women still have higher unemployment rates and more precarious working conditions than men, that, combined with austerity cuts and the general deterioration of the labour market, are leading to growing social inequality and poverty.
  • Women still have lower wages: 51.4% of them earn 1.5 times the minimum wage (641 euros )
  • The government’s austerity programme and deregulatory labour reforms have destroyed nearly 250,000 jobs held by women, especially in health and education, and in the service sector
  • 75 % of women recruited in the last two years have a temporary contract; only 2.6 % have been hired on a permanent contract.
  • Two million women, 26% of which are occupied , working part-time . In sum, increases the precariousness and inequality that were already suffering in pre-crisis times.
  • Of the more than 330,000 workers who have lost their jobs after Spain’s hire and fire labour reforms, 68 % were in permanent employment (205,200), ie , 2 out of 3 workers.
  • The destruction of female employment is concentrated in the public sector, where it reached 72 % (175,000) of jobs lost were women workers.

Sources: CCOO, UGT, Nueva Tribuna 


  • Since 2008 684,000 jobs have been destroyed – 38% of them women workers
  • This includes 119,000 women’s jobs in agriculture, 83,000 in industry and 54,000 in the service sector
  • Between 2011 – when the Troika landed in Portugal and austerity, neoliberal reforms were implemented – and 2013, 37,000 women were chucked out of the labour market, reversing a previous positive trend of ever greater labour market activity
  • In 2013, 382,000 women workers have non-permanent contracts, 21% of all salaried workers
  • Among young women the picture is even worse – for more than 60% of under 25s don’t have permanent jobs
  • Unemployment among women has doubled since 2008 and apart from 2012 was higher than men,
  • Among the under 25s joblessness is 40%.
  • Adding to together unemployed and underemployed – those working less than they want or need – a total of 755,000 women are affected,  a ‘precariat’ that represents 28% of the female working age population.

Sources: CGTP 


  • In Greece unemployment among women – at 32% is about a third higher than men – and among the under 25s is also higher – 66% vs 54%
  • The private sector gender based wage gap is approximately 20% while the public sector, where the gap is smaller, has been dramatically scaled back.
  • While wages are being depressed and those of women even more due to the gender pay gap, the cost of living is rising due to tax rates aimed to enhance government revenue. The value added tax (VAT) rates hit the poor and women harder than the better off as a large percentage of their incomes is spent on consumption
  • Due to unemployment many middle class women have fallen into the category of the new poor and are taking on more of the unpaid housework such as cleaning and childcare and care for dependants which was work previously done by immigrant women.
  • The lack of affordable and quality crèches, the shortage of public health services, the fact that private care services are too expensive, the reduced affordability of families  to hire migrant women as helpers and the eradication of early retirement for women have created a looming care crisis for individual women and families and for Greek  society as a whole.
  • Pensions – the official retirement age has been raised and equalised at 65 for women and men. There are heavy penalties for early retirement. In the public sector women were entitled to retire up to 15 years earlier if they had under age children. Along with age there has been extension of the minimum contribution period for retirement on a full pension and calculation of the pensionable earnings on the basis of the entire lifetime earnings.
  • The change of pension rules has taken place in many EU countries. As a result women have been more penalised due to shorter orirregular working patterns. The long term impact of these changes in Greece has been an increase in the employment rate of those over 55, especially women. Also increased exits to retirement during the transition period to the new system (greater incidence of exits among women, than men). This trend serves the immediate goal of reducing public sector employment and spending.
  • Significant reductions in pensions were effected in Greece through the immediate abolition of part of yearly pension income that was provided in the form of Christmas, Easter and summer benefits and its replacement by a meagre means tested social assistance benefit.

Sources: Country Economy.comOHCHR


  • Women are more educated than men, six successive laws have affirmed the principle of equal pay, yet there is still a 27% pay gap (or 18% of the hourly wage) between women and men. This gap has remained unchanged for 20 years. This inequality is mainly due to four factors:
  • Women represent 80% of the part-time workforce
  • Women are disproportionately concentrated in socially and financially undervalued businesses, in which women’s qualifications are not recognized or paid. –
  • They face reduced career prospects
  • They are discriminated against particularly where pay is individualised

Sources: CGT

This article first appeared at Revolting Europe

Image credit: atibodyphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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