Earlier this week, I came across a very important press release. It was issued by EPSU – the European Federation of Public Service Unions – and talked of its research on the ‘Silent Crisis’. The ‘Silent Crisis’ is about the gender dimension of the economic crisis. More specifically, it is the crisis brought on by the austerity policies introduced by Conservative and right-wing governments throughout Europe, which affect women more profoundly than men. It is the situation resulting from the economic and financial crisis, namely the cuts in sectors that employ most women and the cuts in the public spending that women need.
In an article in the NYT, Katrin Bennhold explains the Silent Crisis: ‘With the first cuts beginning to bite, economists and women’s groups warn that women are likely to bear the brunt of austerity: as public sector employees, as retirees who live longer than men and thus rely more on health care and social security, and as mothers whose decision to work depends on affordable child care.’
And all this, without any real public outrage and without serious responses to the concerns that EPSU, just like PES Women, have repeatedly voiced since 2008 . Many of the conservative governments have stayed completely and utterly silent.
They often say something is a ‘challenge and an opportunity’. I wish that with the economic crisis it was the same. But instead of this crisis being the end to a male-dominated labour market or the moment to reconsider machismo in the financial sector and to reconsider the way we combine work and private life, this crisis has been nothing but a challenge. If we don’t act, the Silent Crisis will represent a missed opportunity to design a fair, sustainable and inclusive labour market for women and men.
The opposite will happen if we continue on our current path: we will come out of this crisis not with more, but with less equality. The austerity measures in many European countries are misguided and short-sighted. Slashing the jobs and funding women rely on isn’t big and it isn’t clever. To quote from Ms Benhold’s article:
“You have to think about the long-term costs of austerity,” Policies that help women combine work and family life will contribute to families’ economic resilience, boost economic growth and ultimately tax revenues. Policies that don’t, risk doing the opposite.”
The European Commission knows this. At least, you would think so if you look at their 2020 Strategy, which aims to increase women’s employment in Europe in order to boost the European economy and tax revenues. The economy of the euro zone would grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men. Paradoxically, we haven’t yet heard a single objection from Commissioner Viviane Reding, who ought to be the voice of gender equality in Europe, to the disproportionate effects the austerity plans are having on Europe’s women. This really is a very, very Silent Crisis.
We cannot remain silent much longer though, we have to speak out now for women and for the sake of our European societies. I hope I can count on your help in making some noise.