Public sector adjustment and the threat to gender equality

Jill Rubery

28th Feb 2013 12:00pm-2:00pm Darlington Centre Board Room, University of Sydney

From the Second World War onwards the public sector played a highly significant if variable role in integrating women into wage employment and promoting gender equality. Up until the recent recession the long-term expectation within Europe has been that public services would be at least maintained and even grow as more and more states responded to new social needs for childcare and expanded education, health and elderly care. However, the economic crisis and public expenditure adjustment have confounded these expectations, with pressure now towards service contraction. Moreover, optimism that the public sector would be a vehicle for promoting greater gender equality in both quantity and quality of employment experience has been replaced by fears of privatization and that a shrinking welfare state will reduce the quantity and quality of jobs available to women and restrict the services that women rely on to enter employment in both public and private sectors. The contribution of the public sector to gender equality in employment is multi-dimensional. To explore these different dimensions in fifteen European countries this paper looks first at the employment contribution to gender equality, including access to higher level and professional jobs. Second we consider the contribution to pay and pensions. Third contributions to gender equality policies through work life balance policies and specific equality commitments are assessed. For each dimension we consider the contribution before the crisis and the potential implications of austerity policies for gender equality. In the final section we summarize the variations across countries in the public sector contribution to gender equality and outline the core dangers for gender equality that lie in current discourses on the public sector and in the actual plans for public sector adjustment.

Professor Rubery has been involved in a large number of research projects, sponsored by the ESRC, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Leverhulme Trust, the ILO and the European Commission amongst others. Her research work and publications have covered labour market regulation policies and the role of minimum wages; new forms of work and flexibility; women's employment and women's pay; employers' working-time policies; and international comparative labour market analyses.