Austerity Push Hurt Women Most by Reinforcing Pay Gap, UN Says

Austerity programs enacted after the 2008 global financial crisis, often featuring deep cuts in public spending, hurt women more than men and helped to reinforce rising income inequality, the United Nations said.

A report from the UN women’s empowerment division on Monday looked at how broad policy measures taken by governments can have unequal and often gender-specific consequences -- but don’t have to.

“Macroeconomic policies can pursue a broader set of goals, including gender equality and social justice,” UN Women said in the 337-page report entitled “Progress of the World’s Women 2015: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights.”

Instead women, who globally earn 24 percent less than men, struggle for access to better-quality jobs and the valuable benefits often associated with those jobs, such as pensions, UN Women said.

Women in all countries also work longer hours than men, if unpaid domestic work is added to paid work, the report said.

Post-crisis macroeconomic policies attempted to stabilize markets and economies, often by enacting deep cuts to social services, but did so without also tackling existing gender divisions, according to the report.

“Broad-based economic policies do have gender-specific effects because these policies interact with structural features of the economy, such as the distribution of unpaid work and the segregation of women and men into different types of employment, to produce distinctly gendered outcomes,” UN Women said.

Childcare Burdens

Income inequality, already on the rise, was reinforced by the 2008 crisis to the point where the world is said to be more unequal now than at any point since World War II.

Cuts to social benefits in developed and developing countries done in the name of austerity has shifted more of the burden of caring for children onto the backs of women and girls, the report said.

Meanwhile, cuts in developing countries often affected basic services like food, fuel, electricity and transport subsidies which women are more heavily reliant on, the report said.

And while many countries continue to experience low growth and high unemployment, joblessness hits young women the hardest as gender stereotypes leave women more vulnerable to occupational segregation or limit them to unpaid domestic work, according to the report.

Clerical, Sales

In the European Union, one quarter of women compared to just 3 percent of men cited childcare and other family responsibilities as the reason for not working, according to 2013 data from Center for Economic and Social Rights cited in the report. The presence of young children in the household was linked to lower employment rates for women but higher rates for men in the developing world and in Mexico.

Forty-six percent of Mexican women between the ages of 25 and 34 in households with very young children were in the labor force in 2010 versus 55 percent of women in households without children, according to UN Women’s data. The figures for men were 99 percent and 96 percent.

Globally, women hold 64 percent of clerical and support positions and 55 percent of service and sales roles against 33 percent of managerial occupations, according to 2015 data from the UN’s International Labor Organization cited in the report.

Women are also underrepresented in skilled work, holding 17 percent of craft and trade occupations and 37 percent of agriculture and fisheries, the UN said.

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