The Impact of Austerity on Women in Greece

Article excerpt

Greek indebtedness has recently been in the news a lot. Speculations about the end of the Euro and with it the possible fragility of the European Union have been blamed on Greece and on its government and people. The lack of systematic and enforced taxation and a degree of corruption have been contributing factors. Yet, where can we say that tax evasion and corruption do not exist? Many of the loans that led to the current situation were hatched in the international corporate headquarters of Goldman and Sachs, Siemens, military industries, the IOC etc. among others. Is there a neo-liberal government that has not bailed out its financing and major industries with billions of dollars, let alone financed wars with trillions of working and middle class taxpayers' money - not to mention with the lives of their sons and daughters? All of these governments are now introducing "austerity" measures to reign in these debts on the backs of - you guessed it - their working and middle classes.

While "gender" is never considered in these situations, Women & Environments International Magazine (WEI) is fortunate to have a long time contributor in Greece to shed some light on how women in Greece have been affected by this crisis. Dina Vaiou is a professor of Urban Planning at the National Technical University of Athens. She is someone who has also developed a profound feminist perspective. I recently had a chance to ask her some pointed questions on what is happening in Greece and on the impact for women.

Reggie Modlich: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is asking Greece to cut 150,000 public service jobs among many other austerity measures hitting working men and women. Would the jobs in question be primarily women's jobs?

Dina Vaiou: At first glance, in the past two years the effects of the crisis on employment have affected men more than women. There have been dramatic job losses in construction, manufacturing and commerce which are male dominated sectors of employment and which have led to an 8% increase in unemployment among males and to a 1 .4% increase in female unemployment (November 2008 to November 2010). However, these developments are inscribed on what is already an unequal scene, that is, female unemployment figures are still significantly higher than male figures, 17% versus 13%, although the gap is smaller now than in 2008, 11.6% vs. 5.2%. (Recent data published by Maria Karamessini, Professor of Labour Economics, in an article in Epochi, March 6, 2011).

We had several decades of continuous improvement for women's educational achievements where half of women employed had a permanent and continuous job, and one in four women was employed in the public sector, one of the few sectors with job security and good working conditions for all. Moreover, women were and continue to be concentrated in the areas of public sector employment which have been hit most by this crisis such as health, education and social infrastructure. In this context, it can be said that the cuts in public sector jobs will impact women more than men. For example, 60% of women with higher education degrees work in the public sector compared to 40% of men with the same level of education. There are also concerns about how this will impact job opportunities for young women who are highly qualified.

At the other end of the job market there are also many female dominated work sectors such as cleaning, textile and clothing industry work which have been impacted by the collapse of employment rights, lack of job security, pressures from employers and there has been an explosion of "flexible" and informal employment where there are no set contracts, no social security, no health insurance or any kind of basic entitlements. This is particularly prominent in the sectors affecting migrant women as well as migrant men where there have been large job losses in construction, small manufacturing and where many migrant women remain the sole income earners of their respective households thereby being placed at greater risk. …