The Regional Governor of Attica, Ms Rena Dourou, was a speaker at the presentation of the book entitled "Women and Austerity - The Economic Crisis and the Future for Gender Equality" in Kalamata, on Thursday 18December. The book has been edited by Maria Karamesini, professor at the Panteion University and Manager of the Greek Manpower Employment Organization (OAED), and Jill Rubery, professor at the University of Manchester. “The end of rights applies to both women and men. Similarly, women and men should fight together against this - from Ireland to Greece, from North America to Europe”, stressed the Regional Governor. “In this context, it is imperative 'to attach again an emancipatory meaning to gender equality' while implementing at the same time the necessary wider socio-economic reforms, in order to overcome the crisis in terms of social justice.”
The book edited by Karamesini and Rubery is a very interesting book in many aspects.
The reason is that although the book deals with an issue that may sound familiar, namely the impact of the economic crisis on women's employment, this issue remains a field that requires further consideration.
This collective volume is an important piece of work.
It lays the foundations for a serious study on the gendered impact of a prolonged, multifaceted economic crisis.
We are undoubtedly facing a multifactorial phenomenon, which we are required to analyze using, occasionally, obsolete tools.
The first conclusion we came to by reading the texts of the volume, which relate to different political, economic and social realities, is the need for a methodology.
The need to update our analytical tools.
We have to emphasize the important work made in this area by the Laboratory for Gender Studies of the Department of Social Policy at Panteion University. Indeed, we owe thanks to them for the organizing of the first Symposium in December 2011 in Athens, where there was a discussion on "Women, Gender Equality and Economic Crisis".
The Athens Symposium and the Reykjavik Symposium on the following year were the starting points for this collective volume which provides an anatomy of the crisis through a gender perspective, by raising concerns and coming to relevant conclusions.
These conclusions are specific to the countries under review, namely Greece, Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Iceland, while conclusions have also been made regarding EU policy. Moreover, there were useful findings through a comparison with the situation in the US.
Also, there were conclusions associated with the way we view the current economic crisis, which not only is a cyclical economic downturn but also a turning point in the context of the structural crises of capitalism.
This view should now take into account the gender perspective, which is documented comprehensively in the texts of this book.
This is because it is now clear that gender studies cut across power relations and the political and social context of the financial aspect of the crisis.
Referring to the analysis framework, Jill Rubery stresses that "she recognizes gender both as an appropriate variable for assessing the changes of a work and social model and a factor that can shape the way this model is adapted to the recession and the public debt crisis" (p.44).
Jill Rubery continues by posing the critical question of the "two-way interaction between gender and other institutional arrangements, where institutional changes rearrange the form of gender relations and the form of gender relations affects the course of institutional changes in the labour market and the welfare system" (p.58).
In a documented way and by providing many examples and numerous references, the authors of the book show that, although the consequences of the crisis vary depending on the country and the degree of economic and social emancipation of women, the European social model is the worst affected, thus creating the conditions for an erosion of women’s achievements in recent decades.
This paves the way for the restoration, this time under the pretext of the "natural" consequences of the crisis, of patriarchal standards, and the return to the supposedly ‘natural’ women’s domain of housekeeping and raising children.
Here, be it the UK or Greece, we have to deal with a set of consequences that overturn decades of achievements, challenging the very core of these achievements.
Of course, at this stage, situations differ because of the different socio-cultural background.
In Greece, for example, such return to the patriarchal patterns of the past is easily noticeable through the way women are treated in the public sphere – they are easily belittled and confined in unimportant roles and, ultimately, they are the subject of an attempt to marginalize them.
The second conclusion confirms a paradoxical finding: i.e. although gender inequalities in the labour market have been reduced, this is not a positive development – on the contrary, Karamesini makes a reference to a "sweeping social regression" (p.243).
This is a result of the deterioration in men’s employment position because of the brutality of the economic crisis and its many forms, i.e. internal devaluation.
Therefore, we come across what we would call ''downward equality".
Concurrently, there has been a "feminization" of men’s working conditions through the increase of their part-time employment, to such an extent that we can now talk of the "masculinization" of part-time employment (p. 254). At the same time, a sweeping overturn of labour rights and the way wages are set in the private sector, has aggravated discrimination in the private sector area as compared to the public sector, where gender discrimination was and remains less extensive.
"The employment and working conditions in the lower level of the labour market and the wage scale, where women, young people and immigrants are still the dominant work force, have become even more precarious triggering a process of 'masculinization' of part-time employment" (p.273, Karamesini).
The third conclusion, which is the result of all the above, relates to the undoing of the typical view of female employment as a "reserve army of labour", the alleged "safety valve" in periods of recession.
The current crisis "has shown that, despite the economic crisis, women not only remain in the labour market but are entering en masse in it as well, in an effort to support the family income which is hit by male unemployment or underemployment" (p.19), Karamesini points out in the preface the Greek version.
More specifically, with regard to Greece, participation of women "in the labour force did not decline as a result of unemployment, but, in the contrary, it has increased significantly mainly within immigrants and people with a low and middle educational background level", observes Karamesini (p.272).
At this point, I need to emphasize that Greece is a special case. This is due to historical, social and economic reasons, and also due to the brutal fiscal adjustment and the drastic cuts in public expenditure, which have had a direct impact on the provision of services that are of critical importance for female workers. It is no coincidence that many foreign analysts view the "Greek case" as a harbinger of a broader shift in economic and social conditions.
In Greece, which is a guinea pig of restrictive fiscal policies that were tried and failed miserably, the gender perspective is not only an essential tool of analysis but also the sine qua non condition in order to overcome the economic crisis in terms of gender equality.
In other words, the struggle against the patriarchal model of female subjugation, gender inequality, marginalization and devaluation of women’s work remains as relevant as never before.
The struggle against the policies of internal devaluation, austerity and blind budgetary constraints is a fight to eradicate structural discrimination against women, who now are faced with many forms of impoverishment as a result of austerity policies.
Moreover, women are now hit harder by the imposition of such policies: their position in the labour market has deteriorated and they become victims of new forms of poverty within an environment that limits or even eradicates the social structures that were supportive to women.
This is a vicious circle that can be broken only through a holistic alternative program for a way out of the crisis that takes full account of the gender dimension in economic policy.
A program which will also take into account class discrimination within women, a program for liberating women, at a political and employment level, from a framework of labour and social relations which aims to reproduce oppressive structures.
This finding is easily recorded on paper or expressed in words, but it is difficult to implement.
Especially nowadays when even the EU has changed its course: gender equality is no longer a social objective or an integrated element of the EU strategy for employment, guiding several other Member States towards this direction.
Therefore, we are now faced with a difficult equation: the need to change policies at a European and a national level, in an adverse environment of austerity and deregulation.
However, it is imperative to prioritize the tackling of gender inequality in order to overcome the economic crisis. Unemployment cannot be the future for women or men, youth or immigrants. The same applies for the return to patriarchal models. Be it in Greece or the UK.
The end of rights applies to both women and men. Similarly, women and men should fight together against this - from Ireland to Greece, from North America to Europe.
In this context, it is imperative ''to attach again an emancipatory meaning to gender equality'' (p.275) while implementing at the same time the necessary wider socio-economic reforms, in order to overcome the economic crisis in terms of social justice.
This will be a long hard struggle, as we have to fight against many
deep-rooted non progressive political, social and economic forces, which are part of the current political environment in Greece and will do everything to maintain the social and political status quo.
This collective volume, therefore, does not only offer a sound analysis. It is also a tool of work and struggle.
It is a useful book for both women and men, since the change of the gender perspective is a common case. A case for social and political liberation, a common premise of a struggle that we ought to fight now for the future of our society.