Austerity hurts services vital to gender equality: UN

AFP , Monday 27 Apr 2015

Spending cuts are hurting public and social services that give women the chance to find paid work, independence and a chance at equality, a UN report warned on Monday.

The United Nations' organisation for gender equality, UN Women, said in a major study that millions of women around the world are still consigned to low-paid, poor quality jobs.

Across the world, the report reveals that women are paid 24 percent less than men, and this gender pay gap widens for women with children.

"From Wall Street to the sugar cane fields, the gender norms that work against women are strong," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women.

One major problem is that women still carry the burden of work in the home, whether it is caring for children or older people or walking miles (kilometres) each day to fetch water.

"Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne by women and girls," said Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, at the report's launch in London.

The report noted how the extension of childcare, maternity and paternity leave helped women into employment, which in turn gave them and their families a chance at a better life.

Laws regulating domestic work and outlawing gender discrimination and the minimum wage also helped reduce poverty and bring down the barriers to equality, it said.

But in European countries, austerity measures are threatening public services, warned co-author Laura Turquet.

"The austerity measures are a women's rights issue in terms of cuts in public services, and those in particular impact on women because they tend to be over-represented in public sector jobs as well," she said.

Rather than suggest that such public services were unaffordable, she said government should view them as capital investments akin to infrastructure.

Noting that women are currently providing many care services without any financial compensation, she said: "It's about redistributing who pays for it and who carries that burden."

The report also finds that women are more likely to work in undervalued occupations -- 83 percent of domestic workers are women, and almost half of them are not entitled to a minimum wage.

The report comes 20 years after landmark conference on women's rights in Beijing.

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