ABSTRACT

The changes in unemployment measures during a recession do not always capture shifts in female employment levels. Additionally, the timing of the various recessionary effects on employment, unemployment and inactivity are highly gendered. All this raises some methodological questions on the measurement of the impact of the recession on men and women and on the time-span to be considered for the overall assessment. In the European context the economic crisis has challenged progress made in quantitative terms for female employment, with a considerable loss in relation to the pre-crisis trend in female employment rates. The loss against previous trends in female employment rates is only part of the story. To complete the picture we also have to consider the policies implemented because of the crisis and their gendered impact in the longer run. Anti-crisis measures have been implemented to address the dramatic fall in demand, following the bursting of a speculative financial bubble. While clearly necessary, the significant fiscal stimulus during the economic crisis comes at a cost: an increase in public expenditure and public debt. Thus, supportive monetary and fiscal policies have been followed by exit strategies, which in a large number of countries led to the implementation of fiscal consolidation, hence cuts in public expenditure. The drastic budget cuts in public sector spending that followed highlight the need to take a medium-term perspective when considering the full gendered impact of a downturn on employment. Female employment areas may continue to be affected by the lasting effects of policy changes and cuts, long after male unemployment rates begin to fall. Our review of EU and national policies in the context of the economic crisis shows that the relative position of gender equality in policy making has been challenged as governments responded urgently to the crisis by ‘reverting to type’ and weakening gender equality commitments. This chapter explores the impact of the recession on male and female employment and employment policies in a European context. In the next section we review the theoretical perspectives on the gendered responses of employment during a crisis. Subsequently, we explore empirically the impact of the recession on employment patterns of women and men. The fourth section explores the gendered nature of policy responses at the level of the EU and among its Member States. The final section reflects on the risks of policy changes and considers how gender mainstreamed responses could (have) offer(ed) a more coherent response to the economic situation.