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Women's situation in the European labour market and the now initiative

Women's situation in the European labour market and the now initiative

The surge in women's participation in the European labour market over recent years has finally destroyed the notion that women are a marginal or peripheral part of the labour force.

Women now make up no less than 41% of all adults in the Community who are in work or looking for work. Yet has this increased integration of women into paid work, ended the traditional divide between men's jobs and women's jobs? Has the growth of employment for both sexes in the service sector meant that more women and men find themselves working side by side in similar jobs? Or the jobs still divided along both vertical and horizontal lines, with women confined to the lower rungs of the ladder or separated off into jobs deemed appropriate for feminine skills and attributes?

Despite the progress achieved in the area of equality of treatment between men and women, the right to work under equal conditions is still a long way off. Several studies show that the increased participation by women in the labour market has coincided with negative structural developments. An upturn in economic growth has led to a relative reduction in the unemployment rate for men. The figure for women, however, has not gone down but has in fact increased in certain Member States.

The gap has reached a stage where women's unemployment (12%) is almost double the rate for men (7%). An even greater cause for concern is the growing increase in the number of women in the ranks of the long-term unemployment; they now make up 55% of the total.

It is clear moreover that in a situation of economic stagnation, the beginnings of which are already manifested, it is the most vulnerable categories in the labour market who will first bear the brunt. New job opportunities will, of course, be created in the restructuring of the labour market to meet both the needs of the Single Market and technological developments. But these opportunities will hardly be accessible to women already excluded from the job market or who are in a precarious position due to low levels of skills.

New research by the European Network of Experts on the Situation of Women in the Labour Market shows that major changes have accompanied the increase in female employment but these have not led to the disappearance of the division between men's work and women's work.

Instead new contours of segregation and division are emerging between men and women. Some women have entered higher level and traditionally male job categories. At the same time, the proportion of lower skilled service workers who were women continued to rise, making these job categories more female-dominated. So trends towards desegregation in some parts of the labour market are offset by increased segregation elsewhere. The advances made by some younger and more educated women are not indicative of a more general trend towards integration and equality in employment.

The segregation of women and men into different industrial sectors is well-known. Furthermore, workers who have particularly vulnerable or low status jobs, such as part timers, family or temporary workers, are nearly all women. The studies reveal that occupational segregation by gender is both a pervasive and persistent feature of all European labour markets, irrespective of the rate of female participation or productivity level of the economy.

We still find that half of employed women are found in clerical or service jobs, compared with less than 20% of men.

On first sight the dominant view is perhaps of strong similarities in patterns of segregation between the countries. Women's jobs are characterised by strong elements of caring, nurturing and supportive roles while men monopolise the "heavy" manual, technical and managerial tasks.

Yet a closer look reveals important national differences in these broad patterns. And a further complexity cuts across the picture: that of a new and emerging trends which vary according to their roots in different societies.

Women have tended to increase their share of those jobs that have expanded over the decade, mainly in the professional and clerical occupations. Women with sufficient qualifications have entered professional jobs and reduced the male majority in these jobs. This is a positive trend towards desegregation, occurring in every country and unrelated to national variations in female participation rates. At the same time segregation within the higher level occupational labour market is evident, for women have mainly congregated in the caring professions and the public sector.

An underlying concern is the impact of segregation on the quality of women's employment. Women tend to be concentrated into female-dominated and lower-level jobs, which are poorly paid compared with most male-dominated jobs.

Yet where women are entering the better paid, high-level jobs there is evidence that pay levels tend to fall as men quit for richer pickings elsewhere in the economy. To evaluate the impact of segregation on women across the Community we have to take into account the way that payment systems are organised within countries, and the gender pay gars which result. Equal pay for work of equal value policies needs to be initiated alongside positive action programmes to reduce segregation.

Agricultural jobs are a significant source of employment for both women and men in the Southern countries and for men in Ireland.

Agricultural jobs account for nearly one third of working women and 21 % of working men in Greece, and for 21% of working women and 16% of working men in Portugal. In Spain and Italy the concentration of employment in agriculture is lower (10% of women and 13 % of men for Spain, 9% for both sexes in Italy). In Ireland agriculture accounts for a larger share of male employment (21 %) but for women the share is similar to that for other Northern countries (5%). Agriculture is a mixed occupational area in Greece and Portugal where women hold 44% and 50% of the jobs, while in Italy and Spain women hold 35% and 27% of the jobs and in Ireland only 10%.

Although agricultural jobs in the Southern countries appear to be less gender segregated than many other occupational areas, closer inspection reveals a different form of segregation between men and women by employment contract.

Within agricultural employment in every country, men are more likely to be self employed than women, who are more likely to be working alongside them as unpaid family workers. The picture is starkest in Greece where two thirds of women occupied in agriculture are family workers, just under a third are self-employed and only 3% are employees. In contrast only 15% of the men in this occupational group are family workers and over 80% are self-employed.

Portugal is the Southern country that stands out from this general pattern, for female agricultural workers are more likely to be family workers and more likely to be self employed but less likely to be employees than male agricultural workers.

Self-employment in traditional areas like agricultural and sales work, often involves more than one member of the family, for example husband and wife. But unpaid female family workers often also work alongside male-self-employed workers. Whereas working for a family business may offer more autonomy and satisfaction than working for an employer, the financial security of women in family businesses is tied up with the well-being of familial relationships. Even when not working for family businesses, women agricultural and sales workers are more likely to be employed by, and thus subordinate to, a male farmer or shopkeeper.

The European Community has played a significant role in promoting equality of opportunity between men and women. Through the adoption of the Social Action Programme in 1975 and the two subsequent action programmes on equal opportunities, guiding principles have been set down for Member States. The adoption of the Third Medium-term Community Action Programme (1991-95) outlines priority actions for the adaptation to the economic and social changes anticipated with the advent of the Single Market. The first priority is an emphasis on the economic dimension of equality of opportunity in the light of 1992. Women integration into the labour market constitutes an essential element of this aspect. The second priority is "mainstreaming" - developing a more integrated approach in the promotion of equal opportunity and the third priority is the principle of partnership and complementarily at national, regional, local government and social partner levels.

Within this framework, on 18 December 1990 the Commission decided to launch a Community Initiative which was exclusively concerned with women and would reinforce efforts made in recent years to promote female employment at both national and Community level.

One of the characteristics of NOW is that the Initiative forms an integral part of the Third Medium-Term Action Programme for Equal Opportunities (1991-95).

Therefore NOW fits into a strategy of synergy and complementarily between equal opportunities policies and vocational training and employment policies.

NOW has established two main objectives:

NOW supports the following measures:

Who benefits from NOW?

The NOW Initiative is well underway (it ends December 1994) in the 12 Members States of the Community and has had a transnational orientation right from the start. This means that the projects set up in any one country fit in the overall pattern of what is being done with other projects in the other Member States. In this way, new dynamics are generated via the exchange of methodologies and experiences.

Since the end of 1991, the NOW Initiative in the E.U. and of course in Greece has received considerable publicity. This fact combined with up to that moment, the absence of any serious action for the support of women's unemployment and access to the labour market, led to an unexpected resonance of the Initiative.

Throughout 1992 and 1993 - main years of implementation - the overall impact of the Initiative was strengthened by the Coordination Units' promotion efforts (conferences, printed matter, publications, officials' speeches, etc.) as well as by the efforts carried out by the major organisations included in the Initiative.

In general terms, the campaign to launch and promote NOW and the contained idea of transnationality has helped, more than anything else in the past, to mobilise governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), women's associations, local government, the media and the general public in understanding women's problems and needs in the contemporary European society.

The NOW Initiative offers in Greece a way of bridging the gap in women's vocational training, helping them to improve their access in the labour market by developing partnerships on a national but mainly on a European scale.

In Greece in the first, second and third round of NOW more than 150 projects were finally selected among nearly 500 proposals submitted by 280 organisations. These projects constitute along with their European partners, a network of more than 350 organisations in the KU. Overall in the 12 countries more than 900 transnational projects were selected making a European Network of more than 2 000 partners.

In Greece the selected projects were submitted by organisations, of which 62% are local government and national authorities, 24,5% non-governmental organisations, women's associations etc., 9% education and vocational training organisations and 4,5 % social partners. Non-governmental organisations were given priority since their initial percentage of 4% in the overall amount of organisations submitting in NOW, has risen to 24,5% in the final selection.

Transnational partnerships between Greek and other European organisations, were formulated as follows: Belgium 16 (5,9%), France 57 (21,1%), Luxembourg 0 (0,0%), Denmark 10 (3,7%), Netherlands 12 (4,4%), Spain 14 (5,2%), Portugal 17 (6,3%), United Kingdom 63 (23,3%), Ireland 15 (5,5%), Italy 30 (11,1%), and Germany 36 (13,3%).

The development of transnational partnerships helps organisations to benefit from experiences from other Member States and to develop joint activities. The exchange of models of good practice and experience and the exchange of trainers and trainees, contributes to the development of European joint approaches to vocational training and the occupational training of women.

Finally, considerable efforts were and are carried out by the National Coordinators to support thematic and sectoral cooperation among promoters, through the creation and reinforcement of national and transnational networks. In Greece the amount of NOW projects is considerably large thus leading to the need for internal grouping, sharing of experiences and dissemination of information, before expanding into transnational networks.

These domestic networks will enable economies of scale, more efficient and productive transnational cooperation and, through them, easier and larger dissemination of information, expertise and know-how.

Three main networks are being promoted at national level which consist of:

Several NOW projects are being carried out in a rural environment. The idea behind these projects is to:

Thus, a significant number of the projects undertaken in rural areas concern the setting up of enterprises or cooperatives in the agro-tourism or tourism sector and seek to take advantage of local resources as potential activities of the future.

Other projects are more concerned with environmental protection and are oriented towards training in environmentally sound agriculture and the marketing of "natural" products.

There are also projects which seek to improve the image of women farmers, to introduce the corresponding statute, to upgrade agricultural work by improving women's skills and opening up new perspectives for the access to paid employment with social recognition.

Arts and crafts, child care, home care services and commerce are also alternatives to agricultural activity developed by NOW projects. The goal of some projects is to train women in computers and computer tools in order to create independent activities or cooperatives to provide services in rural areas. In Greece more than 40% of the projects were carried out in rural areas.

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