Will one of the outcomes of the politics of the recession be a further debate around gender inequality? In the political climate of the credit crunch, it appears to be an increasingly fertile area for discussion as outlined over the weekend in the new Labourlist blog.
As the recession bites, it is estimated that women, disproportionately in temporary employment, will feel the brunt. While the number of women in employment has risen significantly in the last 30 years and the gender employment gap has narrowed, women are still far more economically vulnerable than men. Women are more likely to live in poverty, hold fewer financial assets, be required to balance the demands of working with acting as carers and mothers and be responsible for managing the household budget.
A new report from the respected Fawcett Society (which works to champion gender equality) ‘Are women bearing the burden of the recession’, highlights the problems. Even before the recession hit, 30,000 women a year were losing their jobs simply because they were pregnant. Women are more likely to be in part-time or temporary employment and so are at greater risk of having fewer employment rights. Women are more likely to be paid less, with the UK having the worst gender pay gap in Europe, whilst Ethnic minority women fare even less well with far lower rates of employment and pay. Women are also more likely to be lone parents.
So what can be done? Fawcett put forward a number of policy prescriptions for the Government to act on. These include actively promoting women’s rights and taking action to stamp out discrimination and more active promotion of flexible working. With regulation now back in vogue, the Government could emulate the success of quotas in Norway to bring women and female talent into the board room and to fast-track women into decision making. By using quotas Norway has increased its female representation in board rooms from 6 to 44% in 6 years. Women’s skills could, Fawcett argue, also be harnessed to speed the road to economic recovery.
At the very least, as Mary Honeyball argues in the Guardian online on 8th March, all political parties should take action on their own doorstep to boost the number of women in Parliament to ensure equal representation. Can equality legilsation we part of the answer? Proponents look to Obama’s first moves in the U.S. On entering the White House, Barack Obama’s first piece of legislation was, radically, an equal pay law which allows workers greater latitude to sue their employers for unequal pay.
In the week of International Women’s Day Gordon Brown could do far worse than be as bold as his new found friend. A body of opinion is clearly developing around the upcoming Equality Bill, which is now seen as offering an opportunity for the Government to tackle the pay gap and go some way towards countering the greed of the likes of ‘Fred the Shred.’ Watch this space…