When the UK government announced its austerity measures, critics warned that they would affect women disproportionately. The latest unemployment figures, released last week, show that those fears may well be justified, as the number of women out of work has reached 1.05m – the highest level in 23 years. In the past three months, more women than men have been made redundant.
These figures could reflect the fact that women are twice as likely as men to be working in the public sector, which is where most job losses are occurring. It is also possible that other cuts – to childcare provision, for example – have driven women out of the workplace.
However, it might also be less to do with government policy and more with market forces in general. Last month, the Pew Research Center published data showing that between June 2009 and May 2011, men in the US had gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 per cent, while women had lost 218,000 jobs in the same period. Men appeared to be gaining jobs in retail, health and education – sectors that historically had employed high numbers of women.
On the same day that the Office for National Statistics published the UK unemployment data, a new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned it would take another 70 years – or 14 general elections – for Britain to reach equal numbers of male and female MPs. The report, titled Sex and Power, also found that the number of women in the Cabinet had fallen to its lowest level in a decade.
Kay Carberry, commissioner, said: “The gender balance at the top has not changed much in three years, despite there being more women graduating from university and occupying middle-management roles. We had hoped to see an increase in the number of women in positions of power; however, this isn’t happening.”
The sentiment was echoed by Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a UK-based women’s advocacy group, who said: “It’s 2011 and women remain largely excluded from positions of power and influence in virtually every sphere of life – the media, the judiciary, the education sector and more.”
If you have a view on why women seem to be losing the battle for jobs, whether generally or at the very top of our most important institutions, post a comment.