Gender inequality and working poverty were at the centre of the second webinar of the event series “Social policy in the European Union” of the European Trade Union Institute and the European Social Observatory, which was hosted in cooperation with AK EUROPA.
The main focus of this year’s and meanwhile 21st edition of ”Social policy in the European Union: State of play” is on the Covid-19 crisis; as a result, the authors did not only investigate the social agenda of the EU in 2019, but also focussed on the different pandemic-related measures by European countries from January to July 2020.
Nicola Countouris (ETUI) opened the event with the statement that the Coronavirus crisis would not affect men and women equally. Women would be especially disadvantaged by the blurred lines between public and private sector and were disproportionally involved in frontline jobs vital to sustaining the system. He attributes both to decades of neoliberal policies.
Petra Völkerer (AK EUROPA) underpinned Nicola Contouris‘ findings with data for Austria and concluded that a clearly more traditional role pattern has emerged since the start of the pandemic. In particular, women do the majority of unpaid house and care work. It was therefore necessary, both at a national and European level to take long overdue steps, such as making unpaid work more visible with regard to the significant increase of income in system-relevant sectors, which are often dominated by women. She urges the European Commission, to at last publish the Pay Transparency Directive, which had already been announced for 2020.
Jill Rubery and Isabel Tavora, Manchester University, authors of the chapter on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on gender equality demand a right to stay home for parents, whose children are home schooling. They also described some positive developments, stating that some lessons have definitely been learned from the mistakes, which were made in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Ramón Peña-Casas (OSE), author of the chapter on working poverty emphasised the seriousness of the problem, as it would by now affect about 20.8 million employees and self-employed in the EU. He regards the European minimum wage initiative as a partial solution; However, he also referred to the necessity of further measures – for example with regard to social insurance.
Maria Jepsen (Eurofound) pointed out that women are also overrepresented in those sectors, which were suspended completely or at least long-term – for example in aviation or tourism. For her, it is one of the key questions whether the current crisis can be used for a paradigm change, and whether it will be possible to link the debate on minimum wage with that on the important role that women play to sustain the system.
Juliane Bir, ETUC, pointed out that the impact of the Covid-19 crisis – as had been the case for the financial crisis – was by no means gender neutral. Concerning concrete legislative measures, she emphasised the importance of the Pay Transparency Directive – at the start of the year, ETUC, due to the delay of the Directive proposal, had even launched a social media campaign.
Mary Collins, European Women’s Lobby, referred to Simone de Beauvoir and her prognosis that it needed only one crisis to put all achievements regarding the equality of women into question. She demands more consistency with regard to gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting. In her opinion, real progress was only possible with quotas, as demonstrated by debates relating to women on boards.