The new women’s movement for a fair economy
We need a strong European movement which thinks about the economy in feminist terms and feminism in economic terms. Why? Because the crisis has acted like a magnifying glass, highlighting how women are disadvantaged. They perform the majority of work at home and more often lose their jobs because the sectors they work in are especially affected by the crisis. At the same time, they are overlooked in economic stimulus packages, with that money predominantly flowing into male-dominated sectors. Women in Europe can achieve a lot together – Italian women have shown us how.
In spring 2020, women’s work was suddenly considered essential. 75 percent of people in essential jobs were women. At the time, their hopes of thereby gaining more appreciation were justified. Alas, the opposite proved to be the case. We now see that women lose out in the long run if recovery packages are not allocated fairly. The majority of funds do not go to women, whose jobs are disappearing, but rather to sectors dominated to over 80 percent by men. In May 2020, I launched the #halfofit campaign to raise awareness of this gross imbalance. It calls for half of the recovery funds to be allocated to women. Women’s demands for equality have so far largely fallen on deaf ears in Germany, but they have been more effective in Italy where a large women’s movement emerged which generated a lot of public attention with its campaigns.
One reason for this success is the work of Linda Laura Sabbadini who, as General Director of the Italian Office for Statistics (ISTAT), ensures that economic statistics also depict gender aspects. That allows Italian women to refer to hard figures. For instance, the fact that 70 percent of the 440,000 additional unemployed people over the last year were women. Or that 75 of furlough money was allocated to men. Such statistics give them political sway, especially as Linda Laura Sabbadini is active in the “Half of it – Donne per la salvezza” movement in Italy herself.
The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) study which proves these inequalities was only published in March 2021. By this stage, most women were too exhausted to protest or were bullied into silenced by online hate campaigns. Sonja Lehnert, blogger and co-founder of “Eltern rechnen ab” (‘Parents settle up’) very clearly reported this in a webinar organised by our Greens/EFA parliamentary group on networking amongst women in Europe. She illustrates how difficult it often is for women to forge alliances if they are already under significant strain and how they are ultimately thwarted and held captive by the patriarchy.
It is also obvious that the crisis has particularly exacerbated the problem of widespread precarious and illegal employment amongst women. The scores of women who clean, provide care, perform sex work, are involved in bogus self-employment, or are otherwise exploited, are not protected. Politicians have been ignoring the increasingly precarious nature of women’s work for far too long. Julia Friedrichs strikingly illustrates this problem in her highly recommended book “Working Class”.
All countries in Europe are affected. There has never been a strategy for growth in women’s employment in Italy either. Division of labour is highly asymmetrical. It was therefore high time that the EU finally enacted the new “Equal pay for equal work” directive, but that alone will not solve the problem. The significant pay gaps are not within one sector, but between the sectors. Male care workers also earn poorly and women in the IT sector earn well. But there are far too few women in the digital sector. And women still perform twice as much unpaid work, time and energy which they cannot invest in gainful employment. Pay transparency is important, but it will not solve the problem on its own. How can we ensure that women enjoy equal representation and are always considered in the economy?
A successful strategy must promote women’s access to all sectors. Together with Nakeema Stefflbauer, I initiated the #EUDigitalManifesto conference which drafted proposals on increasing women’s presence. Time is of the essence. We can close the digital gender gap in the EU now if 20 percent of the overall resources from the NextGenerationEU budget are allocated to digitalisation. Women must have their fair share of that.
On the one hand, corresponding concepts also have to be implemented in traditionally male-dominated sectors. On the other hand, unpaid care work has to be included in economic calculations. Only then can we hope to ensure long term equality. Women in Europe must join forces now, across all class and party lines, to fight as a strong movement for gender equality in economy.