Young women challenge gender stereotypes in face of crisis

A study by POGO, the Pancyprian Federation of Women’s Organisations, looks at the financial situation of women in Cyprus before and during the economic crisis. It examines the impact of stereotypes on women’s decisions about their jobs and social lives. The findings, published in June 2013, were based on a questionnaire given to 400 women aged between 18 and 35 living in and around Nicosia and suggest that the crisis may have weakened the demands of young women for equality at work.

Methodology

The results of a study into the effects of the financial and economic crisis on women in Cyprus have been published. The research was carried out by the Pancyprian Federation of Women’s Organisations (POGO) and was published in June 2013.

The study was subsidised by the European Commission as part of the framework of the Youth in Action programme. Its findings were based on responses to questionnaires distributed between March and May 2013 to young women living in the Nicosia area, selected using the method of stratified random sampling. The sample consisted of 400 women; 37% were aged 18–24, 26% were 25–29, and 37% were aged between 30 and 35. Of those who responded to the questionnaire, 54% lived in the urban centre and suburbs of Nicosia, and 46% lived in rural areas.

The educational levels of respondents were also recorded; 13.2% stated that they had completed the lyceum (secondary) level, 21% had completed upper secondary, and 65.8% tertiary education.

Just over half (52.5%) said they were employees, 2% self-employed and 9% were unemployed; 1.8% described themselves as home-keepers, 26.8% said they were students, and 7.9% working students.

Financial situation of young women: impact of the crisis

The first part of the study examined the financial situation of young women in relation to their income and the jobs they do.

Asked how they had been affected by the financial crisis, just over a third (38.5%) said they taken a pay cut. A period of unemployment was reported by 29.4% to be a consequence of the crisis that they had personally experienced, and cuts in social benefits were reported by 6.6%. Almost 9% of those questioned said the quality of life in their local communities had been affected, 'Other' unspecified consequences were reported by 6%. Just 7% said the crisis had not affected them, and 3.5% answered ‘Do not know/Does not apply’.

The survey found that 74.5% of the respondents' jobs and incomes had been affected in some way.

A specific question was asked about how working conditions and benefits had changed. The response of 60.4% was that their pay had been cut, 31.5% said they had been forced to adopt flexible forms of employment, 31.7% did not receive a Christmas bonus, while 25.3% stated that they were working longer hours for the same pay. More than one answer to the question was possible.

The participants were also asked whether they had taken out loans and whether they were able to repay them. The answers given – again, more than one answer was possible – show that 60% had a housing loan, 30% had taken out a loan to buy a car, 21% had a student loan, and 20% had a consumer loan.

Respondents said their ability to repay the loans had been reduced substantially, and 20% said they had completely stopped making payments. Late payments had been made by 37%, while 43% had reduced the amount of their payments.

From these results it appears that the financial crisis has affected young women’s quality of life. The loans taken out involve fundamental aspects of their lives such as housing, education and travel.

Women, work and stereotypes

The study investigated the impact on women’s social and working role within the family. It became evident that around one in ten women in the sample worked less or had stopped working altogether in order to meet family obligations, and 7.5% had left their jobs due to the crisis in order to care for the family’s children or elderly members.

However, when the state stops or reduces social benefits, many families are forced to take on additional duties and these are mainly performed by the women of a household. In light of this fact, fewer social support services may, in effect, drive a large percentage of women to give up their right to work.

However, the basic priority of the majority of respondents (66.8%) was to have a secure job. The second priority, at 43.5%, was to further their education, and the third, cited by 39.2% of respondents, was to ‘obtain a permanent dwelling’.

Finding a new job was a priority for 36% of respondents, raising children was a priority for 34.5%, followed by career advancement in the respondent's current job (33.5%), providing children with an education (29.8%), and helping children become financially independent (23.2%).

The answers given are, to some extent, linked with women’s insecurity and anxiety about their jobs. At the same time the responses indicate the importance of work as a basic part of women’s expectations and as a prerequisite for meeting their needs. According to the writers It may be argued that women would have answered differently a few years ago when the unemployment rate was much lower and the financial situation was different. In the past, women may have put career advancement and children’s financial independence higher on their list of priorities.

Women’s attitude to work

The study then looked at attitudes towards female employment. Respondents were asked whether a woman should be willing to work less or not at all for the sake of her family, taking on household tasks and raising children instead, and 65.6% did not agree.

As shown in Table 1, the response of 42.4% was 'disagree completely' which seems at odds with deep-rooted traditional attitudes in Cyprus about the man as provider and the woman as housewife. However, 19% neither agreed nor disagreed that women should normally take on more household tasks, indicating some conflict between traditional and progressive attitudes among women.

It may be of interest, given that the respondents are young women, to note that 14% agreed that women should be willing to work less. It might be assumed that they would be free of the gender stereotypes of previous generations.

Table 1: A woman must be willing to work less/not at all for the sake of her family

Answer options

Percentage

Agree completely

6%

Agree

8%

Neither agree nor disagree

19%

Disagree

23.2 %

Disagree completely

42.4 %

Don’t know/refuse to answer

1.4%

The same question was posed again, introducing the lack of jobs as the reason that women’s employment has been ‘turned over’ to men. Women were asked their attitude to the statement ‘When jobs are scarce, men must be given more opportunities than women’.

The results showed greater disagreement – 78.1% disagreed, 11% remained neutral and 10% agreed. It appears, as indicated by Table 2, that the tendency of young women to demand equal employment rights has increased, resulting in lost ground for the attitude that men must be given the leading position in employment. Of interest is the fact that the same percentage of women (6%) agreed completely both with this statement and with the previous statement that a woman should be willing to work less or not at all for the sake of her family, suggesting that the stereotypes are embedded in the life and attitudes of a very small proportion of young women.

Table 2: When jobs are scarce, men must be given more opportunities than women

Answer options

Percentage

Agree completely

6%

Agree

4%

Neither agree nor disagree

11%

Disagree

10.6%

Disagree completely

67.5%

Don’t know/refuse to answer

0.9%

Household chores

Apart from attitudes towards the role of gender in employment, the study also examined the views of young women with regard to household chores. Two questions were posed about attitudes to work around the house. Respondents were asked whether men should share household chores like cooking, washing, cleaning and ironing, with women.

Table 3 shows that 73.4% answered ‘yes’, while 13% disagreed. The rate of agreement was particularly high, and this indicates to some extent the weakening of the stereotype that considers women ‘more suitable’ for housework.

Table 3: Men should share household obligations (cooking, washing, cleaning, ironing) with women.

Answer options

Percentage

Agree completely

59.4%

Agree

14%

Neither agree nor disagree

13%

Disagree

5%

Disagree completely

8%

Don’t know/refuse to answer

0.6%

However, Table 4 shows that when the respondents were asked whether men should take on equal responsibilities in relation to the family and housework, only 52% answered ‘yes’.

Table 4: Men are undertaking equal responsibilities with the household’s women in relation to family and housework

Answer options

Percentage

Yes

52%

No

43%

Don’t know/refuse to answer

5%

Besides the considerably lower percentage of men who do share household responsibilities in relation to the belief that they should share them,the writers of the study have t serious doubts about whether they actually share all the responsibilities, merely help out, or whether tasks are divided into women’s and men’s.

Even though in both questions, household responsibilities were specified as being ‘cooking, washing, cleaning, ironing’, it is possible that some of the women who said men share the responsibilities meant in practice that their husbands ‘help out’ quite a bit with household tasks but that the majority of household work is still done mostly by women in line with the traditional gender-based division of labou.

Commentary

It has long been the traditional view in Cyprus that the woman kept the house while the man was the provider. It would seem from the research that young women have, to a large extent, questioned the stereotypes of Cypriot society. The survey suggests that young women maintain a strong belief in equality in matters such as the right to work and gender equality at work. However, the financial crisis appears to have affected various aspects of young women’s lives through its far-reaching consequences such as unemployment, interruption of work, benefit cuts, increased family responsibilities, insecurity of children’s education, financial independence, and the interruption of their own studies.

At the same time, the financial crisis has hit the welfare state. This has had negative consequences for families and for women because it affects, for instance, the provision of care services for dependents and state assistance for families.

It has become clear that the greatest danger arising from the many consequences of the crisis is a weakening of women’s social role and their demands for equal rights, such as equality at work.

Reference

Pogo study, ‘Financial situation of young women in Cyprus before and during the economic crisis’, June 2013.

Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute, INEK-PEO

 

 

 

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