ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Retraites, les femmes paieront le prix fort
by Laurence Cohen, Francine Perrot, and Élisabeth Ackermann
Translated Sunday 20 June 2010, by Derek Hansonand reviewed by
Why is inequality going to increase?
Laurence Cohen, heads the Women’s Rights-Feminism Committee of the French Communist Party. Francine Perrot and Élisabeth Ackermann are members of the Committee.
Women enter the labor market in order to attain greater autonomy and independence. In the 1960s, they integrated higher education and wage labor more than previously. Despite this involvement, throughout their working lives women workers experience career inequalities which impact their retirement pensions.
Since the Balladur laws, which introduced a system that penalizes short careers and pegs retirement pensions, no longer on the ten highest-paid years in a career, but on the 25 highest-paid years, the gap has worsened for women. Using the pretext of demographics and the fact that people live longer, Nicolas Sarkozy’s government wants to force us to keep working until age 65, while thousands of young people are looking for steady jobs today.
We affirm that one of the remedies to this problem lies precisely in the development of employment of young people and women. For decades, our economy has been undermined by unemployment, but the government continues its policy of aiding the big bosses and the banks. Its objective is to smash our distribution-based system, with the government drawing inspiration from certain European models in order to shift towards a capitalization-based system.
Fundamentally, Mr. Sarkozy wants to abolish the policy of social protection and national solidarity. He is conducting an aggressive class policy. And it is women who will pay a high price! Up until the 1990s, the percentage of women in employment continually increased in France, reaching an average of 80% of women aged 25 to 54 and amounting to 46% of the working population today. Since then, part-time work has become a mode of entry onto the labor market for women: of 4 million part-time workers, 82% are women. Large numbers of women hold down the new “personal service” jobs, which are very often precarious jobs. They are over-represented in low-skill jobs, although more and more of them have obtained degrees in higher education.
Equality in employment and in wages is essential in terms of social integration and access to autonomy. But for many women, in particular the youngest and least-skilled women, the line separating full employment and under-employment, employment and joblessness is very fluid. Limited time work contracts, forced part-time work, and periods of unemployment are proportionately more frequent and longer for women than for men, and this reinforces all the factors of inequality. As job-seekers, women withdraw from the world of work when they have a child. Low skill levels, discontinuous and precarious employment, and the crying need for childcare for very young children often go hand in hand with periods when women are out of work. This results in nearly 50% of women being unable to qualify for a full retirement pension.
And here’s something that is even more scandalous. Even when they have worked a full career and have paid contributions for the required number of quarter-years, which is the case for only 39% of French women, the amount of their private-sector retirement pensions remains unequal: 1,383 euros a month for a man, 650 euros for a woman. Inequalities in working life carry over to retirement.
The female dimension is very often marginalized and even absent from most of the thinking about the reasons for and the costs of these inequalities. The particularity of the condition of women always remains an observed phenomenon – entirely by chance, of course! And yet, the ways in which the forms of precarious employment for women are determined, and the ways in which differentiations among women themselves are determined are both essential components of social organization and are subject to a dialectical relationship: economic changes influence inequalities between the sexes, and in return, these inequalities determine new forms of inequality for both men and women. Female employment is the product of a number of tendencies that build up over time. Sometimes these tendencies are contradictory, but they are always interlaced.
It is necessary to integrate the mechanism of sex discrimination into the analysis of these inequalities and of the very functioning of our societies. This is of vital importance for civilization itself.