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Both women and men have been hit by job losses in the downturn, says a new report adopted by the European Commission on 18 December 2009
However, women face a higher risk of not being re-employed and continue to be in a generally weaker position in the labour market. Beyond the current crisis, the Commission's report to the Spring European Council on equality between women and men underlines the persisting challenges for gender equality in Europe and calls for a stronger gender dimension as part of the EU's future strategy for growth and jobs.
The European Commission's annual report on equality between women and men shows that despite a generally positive trend towards a more equal society and labour market in the EU, progress in eliminating gender inequalities is slow. Gender gaps persist in employment rates, pay, working hours, positions of responsibility, share of care responsibilities and poverty. Considerable progress was made in women's employment between 1998 and 2008, with a rise in the female employment rate of 7.1 percentage points to 59.1% - but this positive trend has been interrupted by the economic crisis.
While unemployment among women has risen less rapidly as a result of the crisis (from 7.4% in May 2008 to 9% in September 2009) than among men (from 6.4% to 9.3%), the two rates are now rising at the same rate, and women's unemployment is still higher than men's in 12 EU countries. This raises the risk of a delayed impact on women, as job losses spread from predominantly male sectors such as construction and manufacturing, to more gender-mixed sectors and the public sector, where more women are employed.
The recession represents both an opportunity and a potential threat for women's employment and gender equality. Gender equality is a precondition for growth, employment and social cohesion, and must therefore be considered as part of the solution for exiting the crisis. Under the Swedish Presidency, EU ministers also highlighted the need to strengthen the gender dimension in the EU 2020 strategy and a recent expert report found that eliminating gender gaps in employment could lead to potential gains of between 15-45% of GDP.
The report goes on to highlight that quality employment is the best safeguard against poverty and social exclusion, and that in times of recession special attention should be paid to vulnerable groups. Furthermore, policies which aim to improve the work-life balance of both women and men, enabling more women to enter the labour market, should be considered as a longer-term investment and not as a shorter-term cost.
Finally, the report focuses on the need to combat gender-based violence which is first of all a breach of fundamental rights but also represents high costs for society.
The report will be part of the growth and jobs package to be presented to EU leaders at the Spring European Council on 25 March and will feed into the EU's future 2020 Strategy for growth and jobs. It will also serve as a basis for work on the EU's future gender equality strategy under the Spanish Presidency of the EU.