Feminism and Austerity – ELSU session

These are notes taken from the European Left Summer University (2013) session on Feminism and Austerity.

Irina Castro (Bloco de Esquerda)

Austerity and equality are irreconcilable. Many women work for greater autonomy and financial independence. Work outside the home carries greater social weight than work inside the home. The increase in unemployment and temporary employment reduces this autonomy. Women can be forced back into the home and return to relations of the dependency. This can even contribute to greater domestic violence.

The European Women’s Lobby, a liberal lobby group stated that the crisis is corroding integration of women into the labour market.

At first most economists said that the crisis would hit men more extensively than women. However, in Portugal the numbers show the opposite.

The crisis has strengthened the male conservative agenda, providing a material reason for women to go back into “care work” in the home, which can reduce some household costs.

Portugal has never had a strong feminist movement, so this makes it even harder to fight this agenda.

Women tend to have more precarious employment, and wage inequality persists adjusted for education. Job interviews in Portugal routinely ask women if they expect to be having children.

Sophia Roque (Bloco de Esquerda)

I’m a feminist and an organiser for a movement of precarious workers in Portugal. In Portugal unemployment is around 30%. The economy is built on cultural and economic inferiority of women – in wages and in social relations. This material inequality and relations of dependency underpin domestic violence, reducing avenues of escape.

It’s often the case that the economic and the social questions of feminism are looked at in isolation, but they are intertwined.

Since women make up the majority of precarious labourers in Portugal, questions of precarity are important feminist questions. Further, unemployment is the social plague which allows precarity. Unemployment is the stick which is used to beat workers into temporary and poorly paid work.

We need a new feminist movement allied with unions and political parties to fight the barriers to feminist equality.

Guna Stark (Red/Green Alliance)

Eco-feminism has been pushed into the background as a result of the economic crisis, however perhaps its the case that eco-feminism can give us solutions to the crisis.

The approaches to economics have been very male gendered approaches. Instead we should look at care-work as a way to organise the economic. Basic Minimum Income can give latitude to decided on what type of work people would prefer to do, and work can be done based on care, rather than needing remuneration.

Christiana Reymann (Die Linke)

We need more discussion on questions of feminism and austerity as the manifestations are different in the different countries in Europe. Germany is the cause of the crisis – an economy based on low-wage labour with high productivity which is export-lead.

A theoretical lens can not solve the crisis. Economics pretends to a gender blindness. We need to emphasise the “care economy”. The financial crisis is rooted in the crisis of capitalism and partiarchy. Partiarchy derives its basis in the material conditions of reproduction. Capitalism reorganises all resources including humans to the service of profits.

By contrast an economy which cares about people individuals and the environment is what we need to look for as a solution to the crisis. This should be based on a new concept of citizenship. We need to expand the public sphere. Volunteer work can be the core of a new economy We need a reorganisation of care-work to recognise the reproduction of labour itself. We should have a demand of paid time off. We should have production of humans for use-value, the satisfaction of needs, quality and beauty. We should expand the commons, with the removal of intellectual property rights. Destroy exchange-value and valourise use-value. We need totally free education. Fair-taxation can help us to invest in social infrastructure. We want welfare, not workfare and perhaps we should look at BMI.

Clara Alonso

We need to address economics from a feminist perspective. The situation of women in Spain due to austerity is very severe. There is heavy sectoral segregation of employment. Female unemployment rate is much higher for females, especially long term unemployment. The current rate is around 27% for females and 52% for young women. 80% of women are working in term contracts, women are more precarious. Women functions as buffers in the crisis, reducing home costs by providing care-work.

We need to rethink how we see the crisis. Unless we include gender in our analysis our understanding will be very incomplete.

Women who are in the work force often have a double load, performing much of the labour at home as well as in the labour market. The crisis has accelerated sexual division of labour and it has increased the double load.

Capitalism is incompatible with our needs. We need to think on how to have decent lives and to develop policies on this value basis. We can’t each be trying to save ourselves, we need solidarity. Communist women in Spain have been at the centre of this fight. We need to fight for housing, that nobody should go hungry or be in the streets and we need to fight in the institutions. We need practical solutions for the social majority.

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