A Health, Social and Economic Crisis Revealing Class and Gender Antagonisms in our Society

A Statement of the Feminism Working Group of the Party of the European Left.

The structural crisis of the capitalist system accelerated by the pandemic has further exacerbated the class and gender divides present in our society. This crisis has revealed the disaster of 30 years of neo-liberal policies in Europe and in the world: shortage of hospital beds, shortage of masks, shortage of medicines and patents in the hands of pharmaceutical companies responding exclusively to the interests of the dividends of their shareholders at the expense of health for all.

Privatization of health care has clearly shown the dramatic consequences of the commercialization of life. We have seen how thousands of elderly people died in private geriatric residences because economic interests prevailed over those of human life.

According to researchers, the impact of the pandemic affects women in a variety of ways, either by increasing domestic violence or by reducing wages, with some women reducing their paid working hours to take on new domestic responsibilities.

With coronavirus, women have been on the front line in the fight against the pandemic. They have kept our society functioning at the risk of their lives: domestic workers, caregivers, cashiers, nurses, social workers… as well as bakers, factory workers, public service workers, doctors, farmers… all these occupations in which women are concentrated at more than 70% (health, social, services, education) and that are the most devalued and underpaid.

Because they are occupying the most precarious jobs in our society, women were the most affected by partial unemployment, the risk of losing their jobs and forced telework despite the lack of childcare. Women were already the first victims of poverty in Europe. Among them are single-parent families made up of more than 80% of single-mothers who are at risk of precariousness and worsened poverty. Nowadays, the NGO OXFAM estimates that 500 million people in the world can fall into poverty, mostly women.

The pressure on women has increased further. New forms of work imposed, stretchable and at the expense of the separation between work and private life have led to an explosion of new forms of psychological and sexual harassment online and offline during the period. This period has also showed the digital divide and unequal access to a possible workspace within the home. The vast majority of companies and governments have not put in place any measures to counter these phenomena.

Having to continue to take over major part of the domestic work and the education of children during this period, women have still seen their mental burden increase from a double to a triple day’s work.

If neo-liberal measures increase, women will be the most affected at all levels. Existing studies already show how the lack of free time and the burden of care have a negative impact on women’s physical and mental health.

The confinement period had as consequence an explosion of macho, gender-based and intra-family violences of around 30% in several European countries, including France. In total, more than 243 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced sexual and/or physical violence worldwide in the past 12 months.

In Europe, millions of women and minors are victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. During the pandemic, these people were even more invisibilized and vulnerable because they were isolated with their pimps. There is an urgent need to make visible and to draw up a European plan against those who benefit from the commercialization of women’s bodies (sexual exploitation, trafficking, surrogacy and pornography). We urge strong actions to guarantee these women the full rights of citizens, their freedom of movement, and policies to get them out of this situation of exploitation and slavery.

During this period we could observed with great concern the structural inequalities to access to healthcare in our society. The virus had a disproportionate impact on poor, Black and Asian (BAME) women. The situation of migrant women without citizen’s rights still extremely worrying as well, the closure of the centers putting them in an even more vulnerable position.

This crisis has also shown the huge lack of solidarity at European level. Even worse, a number of governments are now using the pandemic to reverse environmental commitments but also the fundamental rights of workers and women.

This is the case of Poland, where once again the right to abortion is threatened. In Hungary, the far-right government is multiplying macho and racist actions. The European Union’s migration policies, the limitation to the right of mobility, the violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions with the construction of a fortress Europe, increasingly militarized and bellicose, contribute to the establishment of global insecurity and an explosion of inequalities.

We will not pay for their crisis!!!

If women had stopped working, the world would have stopped and we would not have been able to overcome this pandemic! Many of them did it at the cost of their own life.

We refuse to serve as a tool for the interests of big companies and financial sector at the expense of the interests of workers and peoples. Today they offer us to be a “sacrified generation” with an exponential increase of unemployment and precariousness. This would hit young people and women even harder without solving the systemic crisis of the capitalist system. On the contrary, the society we should build today must be free from the patriarchal and capitalist domination with the objective of equality and human emancipation.

We demand a European and global emergency plan to:

  • End all austerity measures and structural adjustment plans and initiate massive investment in public services, in particular health, education, attention to addiction and care, transport, and research in order to meet people’s needs, enable women to no longer suffer double or even triple working day and really enable independence equality and emancipation for all.
  • Maintain and develop existing jobs by subsidizing and guaranteeing full-time wages, particularly for women facing higher unemployment rates instead of promoting and subsidizing job and wage reductions through the implementation of “reduced time working” or “partial unemployment” programs and the suspension of employment contracts, according the neoliberal recipe followed in some countries, including Greece.
  • make sure that all the national and European policies and funds to fight the consequences of the crisis have a clear gender dimension.
  • The increased participation of women in committees set up to deal with the pandemic, as the request adopted by the United Nations after finding that, although women are most vulnerable to the social and economic effects of the pandemic, they are the main absentees from these special commissions.
  • A public and solidarity universal health system must be generalized in Europe as well as a universal and public social security system with the necessary means and competences to face future pandemics in a collective way. Health care sector is essential because it is necessary throughout life. Governments must assume their responsibilities and not let them rest on the shoulders of women, who are often submitted to precarious and irregular jobs.
  • Access to health care as well as the right to dispose of our own body, reproductive healthcare including, contraception and abortion rights must be guaranteed, including by an extension of the legal time for an abortion, public and universal infrastructures and its reimbursement at 100% by the social security system.
  • Today almost 30% of women in the EU work part-time and are much more likely to stop working to take care of children and parents. We call for a global increase in wages, particularly in the most feminized sectors of health, education and care, and a secure career path.
  • In order to enable women to no longer occupy the most precarious and part-time jobs and to counter mass unemployment, we advocate an overall reduction in working time, without reducing social contributions, but by keeping full-rate wages.
  • Telework, which has become a dangerous tool, should be regulated to prevent it from becoming the “part-time” work of the 21st century. Telework, was promoted as one of the measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, according to all indications, tends to become more permanent in the labour market. It could seriously affect working conditions, especially for women, with extendable hours, by pushing them to remain exploited from home while at the same time taking on domestic care and tasks. There is an urgent need to take steps to comply with the law by strengthening controls on respect for working hours, promoting healthy and secure working conditions and rest times in accordance with labour law.
  • Women in the EU earn on average almost 15% less per hour than men, and this has hardly changed in the last 10 years. This gap is further exacerbated regarding pensions: women earn on average 40% less than men. Equal pay must be a top priority, including by setting binding national, European and international standards for enterprises.
  • Across Europe, single-parent families are more vulnerable to poverty and insecurity than other families. The case of single mothers is of particular concern, we call for increased social protection, an increase in family allowances and guaranteed access to public services, including housing, to enable them to live and raise their children with dignity. We call for emergency measures to protect the most poor and vulnerable women including single-parent families and to further secure their lives.
  • We urge for ambitious policies at destination of the most vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrants, Roma etc. by legalizing their situation and permit their integration into the labour market and guarantying them access to healthcare, treatments and asocial security.
  • Following the containment period the birth rate could increase. We demand a “most favored European clause” which permit to reach the highest existing standards with well-paid maternity leave and the same length of time as in the Nordic countries. We also call for mandatory and non-transferable paternity leave.
  • Harassment in the workplace has increased further in the last period. While women in the informal economy (home care, domestic workers, agricultural workers…), this phenomenon affects all spheres of society. We call for the implementation of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions 190 and 189, in order to strengthen the rights of workers, especially women, with the aim of ending the informal economy.
  • Over the last period, the vast majority of companies and public institutions have not implemented any measures to fight against new forms of harassment. We call for a general external and independent audit in all workplaces against old and new forms of harassment, including the implementation of investigations into working conditions during the last period, mandatory training courses against sexual and moral harassment, and the establishment of an emergency number and monitoring for victims of harassment.
  • A real funding plan to get women out of macho and sexual violence and to enable them to obtain emergency material and moral assistance with access to housing, psychological and financial monitoring and support towards financial independence.
  • As such, special assistance must be put in place for the most vulnerable women, victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, to enable them to obtain the care and security necessary to get them out of sexual exploitation.

The pandemic has shown that women have been essential to sustain life, being at the forefront of fire. We demand Nationals and European shock plans that guarantees our right to live with dignity, with equality and free from violence. We will continue to mobilize to smash patriarchy and capitalist system!

Feminism Working Group of the Party of the European Left, 2 July 2020

Originally published at the website of the Party of the European Left