The recession could hit working women harder than men, an EU study warns, underscoring persistent disparities between the sexes in the European labour market.
Already in good times, unemployment and poverty are more common among women than men. This is partly because many women – about one-third - work part-time, including on temporary contracts, which undermines their job security. Women also hold fewer positions of responsibility than men and are concentrated in less lucrative professions.
“The economic slowdown is likely to affect women more than men because women are more often in precarious jobs,” the report says.
The commission hosted a conference this week on how the downturn is affecting women.
The EU has made strides over the last decades, adopting legislation on equal treatment and introducing measures to advance women. But discrimination remains a problem in the workplace.
And women still shoulder more of the responsibility for children than men and often have to cut back on work after they become mothers. The EU has also proposed changes in existing laws to help parents balance work with family life.
The economy has shed more than 4 million jobs since April 2008. Initially male-dominated industries - like finance, construction and manufacturing - bore the brunt. But unemployment has spread well beyond these sectors.
The services sector, which accounts for two-thirds of jobs in the European economy, has also trimmed its workforce. Women account for about half the people employed in services, including more than 60% in retail trade. In Germany, thousands of women fear for their jobs after Arcandor, the owner of the giant department store chain Karstadt, filed for bankruptcy.
For now, the recession has reversed the historic gap between women and men, with the male unemployment rate starting to exceed the female rate for the first time. But the EU jobless rate for women (8.5% in April 2009) is still only slightly less than for men (8.6%). In the eurozone, it’s remains higher for women (9.4%) than for men (8.9%).
The report also highlighted the gap in wages. Women across the EU earn on average 17.4% less than men for every hour worked. Yet the number of people working is rising and 59% of all new university graduates are female.