While the raft of austerity measures brought in by Rajoy’s government in Spain over the summer gained European-wide attention, the international press limited itself to reporting the €65bn headline figure, and scant attention was given to the details of where the cuts would fall.
There is one measure which will hit women hard, and have potentially serious social consequences: the cuts to support for female entrepreneurs.
Self-employed workers in Spain must make social security contributions in the order of 250 euros per month, regardless of what they earn. Women returning to work within two years of having a child had been relieved of this obligation for a period of 12 months, in order to support them in balancing the demands of work and childcare and to ease their reintegration into the workforce. However in July, this exemption was withdrawn with immediate effect.
Not only did this leave many women already receiving or expecting to receive the exemption in the lurch, but it sends a damaging message out to all young women thinking of starting a business and/or a family in the future: you’re on your own. Worse, it demonstrated that any existing measures to support women in business (such as the reduced social security contributions for self-employed women under 35 years of age), could be withdrawn without warning at any time.
As well as having worrying implications for justice and equality of opportunity, putting barriers up to economic activity for half of the population when the country is in a spiral of negative growth is strategically foolish. And, if uncertainty is the enemy of economic growth, the suddenness of this change is hardly reassuring.
Up until July, the number of self-employed women had been steadily increasing, with many women seeing self-employment as an appealing alternative in the context of high unemployment. How these figures will hold up over the medium and long-term remains to be seen, but the outlook is far from promising.