Oral Statement by the MFHR

4th Annual International Forum of NGOs in official partnership with UNESCO

“Combating the feminization of poverty caused by austerity policies”

The Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights (MFHR), since its establishment in 1978, and its President in particular, Prof. Alice Yotopoulos-Marangopoulos, have striven in favour of women’s rights, through its publications, raising awareness activities and conferences, both in Greece, as well as abroad.*

Especially in the context of the current economic crisis in Greece, the Foundation has been particularly alarmed by the situation of women’s rights that have been severely hit by the austerity policies. The protracted recession in Greece has hit women hardest, threatening women’s economic independence and fundamental rights to the core.

In particular, the gender-blind austerity policies that are being implemented are having adverse effects on women’s lives: increasing poverty, eroding rights, shifting the goal post with regard to pension rights and raising the rates of violence against women.

The employment crisis, though at the beginning male dominated, has become equally female. The cutbacks have focused on the most female-dominated sectors, such as education, health and social work, making the situation even worse for women. The result has been a sharp rise in women’s unemployment. According to the Hellenic Statistic Agency, in 2013, this was 31,9%, the highest in Europe, while men’s was less at 24,6%. Especially, young women experience massive unemployment. In 2013, the young female unemployment rate was 50,2%, while their male counterparts was at 43,5%. According to the most recent data for 2015, female unemployment stands at 29,5%, while for young women aged 15-24 at 49,7%. The result has been that nowadays women in Greece face increased poverty rates with 45% of women living below the poverty threshold.

The high unemployment rates of women combined with the lack of insurance and their exclusion from the Greek national healthcare system has also led to a decrease of 5,7% in birth rates, as well as to a rise in birth mortality by 3,5%.

Another alarming trend that deteriorates the position of women is that violence against women has risen. According to the General Secretariat for Gender Equality in Greece, rapes rose by 53,9% in 2011 and 22,2% in 2012. The situation for women has reached a critical point where it can no longer be ignored. This has resulted in locally driven initiatives: crisis centres for women experiencing trafficking, rape or harassment, facilities with free legal advice, psychological support, SOS-lines, shelters among other kinds of support have been put in place by municipalities with the help of the General Secretariat of Gender Equality in Greece.

In this context, the Foundation has recently launched a campaign in favour of the ratification by Greece of the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in August 2014. It also provides free legal assistance to all those women that are victims of violence and that cannot afford to engage a lawyer in order to support them before court.

Overall, it becomes clear that austerity measures have a huge impact on women’s employment, health, income, pensions and work-life balance. Austerity measures have proven to have a detrimental effect on citizens in general, and in particular, women. Cuts in public spending tend to have a disproportionate negative impact on women and thus undermine gender equality, as the crisis has undermined years of progress towards women’s empowerment. However, it is vital that women are not seen solely as victims by policy-makers in times of austerity, but instead as actors for change and development.

Our Foundation calls upon all participating NGOs in this Forum to take action so that UNESCO will adopt a firm position in favour of women’s rights and against the feminization of poverty. Above all, it must be made clear that poverty is not a phenomenon that affects only developing countries, but has become a major feature of the developed world as well, with women being the first victims. Thus, poverty is an issue that concerns all countries and peoples in the world and requires global responses from all, including NGOs and international governmental organizations: our common duty and top priority should be the eradication of poverty.

*In particular, the MFHR’s publications enumerate various titles addressing this important issue [1. Women’s Rights- Human Rights (in English) 2. Affirmative Action: Towards Effective Gender Equality 3. Still Burning Witches: Violence on the Basis of Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity - The Facts, the Laws and the Question of Protection (in English) 4. From Formal to Substantive Gender Equality: The Proposed Amendment of Directive 76/207 – Comments and Suggestions Protection (in English) 5. Collective Violence and Aggressiveness at School (in Greek), etc].