Minority Women and Politics of Austerity in France and the United Kingdom

A guest blog by Akwugo Emejulu, University of Edinburgh and Leah Bassel, University of Leicester, in which they argue that in order to counter the asymmetrical effects of the current economic crisis, intersectional analyses and coalition building are required. They consider how researchers might capture the effects of austerity on representations of minority women’s vulnerability as well as their activism. They do so by drawing on their current empirical project, ‘Minority Women’s Activism in Tough Times’, which explores the impact of the crisis on minority women in Scotland, England and France.


At the time of writing, the UK is undergoing the most extensive reduction and restructuring of its welfare state since its enactment after the Second World War (Taylor-Gooby and Stoeker 2010; Yeates et al 2011). The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government is presiding over a 27% cut to local government—the key mechanism for delivery of public services—and a 68% cut to the social housing budget (Taylor-Gooby 2011: 4). Whilst France was not implementing as stringent measures until the January 2014 budget was announced, a key policy aim of the Socialist government is austerity (Clift 2013). The headline of President François Hollande’s 2013 budget, which he described as ‘the biggest budget shock of the past 30 years’ (Guélaud 2012), was a commitment to cutting the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2013 (L’Express 2012). However, the beleaguered Socialist government missed this budget target (BBC 12 March 2013).

Despite initial reports of a ‘he-cession’, women appear to be disproportionately impacted by the crisis (Women’s Budget Group 2010). They are more likely to be employed in public sector (as teachers, nurses and social workers, etc) and more likely to be sub-contracted to the state via private sector organizations (as care workers, cleaners, caterers, etc) (Seguino 2010; Taylor-Gooby and Stoeker 2010; Women’s Budget Group 2010; Theodoropoulou and Watt 2011). Women are also more likely to be connected to the local state (through accessing and relying on social welfare and public services) because of gendered caring responsibilities.Therefore, austerity measures are likely to increase female unemployment whilst reducing social protection measures that might cushion against mass job losses.


But which women are affected? And to what extent? A further ‘intersectional’ move is needed to challenge state representations of the crisis and the silencing of alternative analyses. We propose simultaneous consideration of processes of racialization and hierarchies of legal status, ability and other processes of stratification which exist alongside and are inflected by gender inequalities (Bassel and Emejulu 2010) which are exacerbated by austerity measures.

In terms of mapping the impacts of austerity measures on minority women, we are also concerned with austerity’s effects on minority women’s activism and intersectional mobilisations within third sector spaces—an important site where the paradoxes of austerity are brought into focus. The impacts of budget cuts on the third sector are increasingly well-documented (Independence Panel 2013), but few studies consider the intersectional effects of austerity on organisations’ programmes and advocacy, and for activists working within them to make multiple axis claims.

In France and the UK, the rise of ‘enterprise’ as a dominant ideological frame has continued apace during the crisis, generating strategic dilemmas for third sector organisations working in the anti-poverty, housing and migration sectors (Emejulu and Bassel 2013). Principles of competition, the accumulation of assets and the commodification of services and products offered by third sector organisations have been imposed onto individual organisations by the local or national states. In some cases, organisations have actively adopted these ideas for survival, while in some (much rarer) cases, they have resisted or subverted these processes and used them as a springboard for new coalitions.

The ethos of enterprise has fundamentally shifted relationships between the state, market and civil society. These shifts generate a difficult context for third sector organisations as, with the rise of privatization of social welfare in the wake of austerity, they must either become ‘any willing provider’ or, often, face extinction.

The rise of an enterprise culture within third sector organisations, has, according to some of our research participants, limited the spaces for different forms of action, especially oppositional work against various policy regimes.

What, then, does this uncertain context mean for minority women who are positioned at the intersection of these various issue areas by virtue of their legal status, housing, class position, race and ethnicity and, of course, gender?

Some of our participants observed that when third sector organisations are confronted with acute resource scarcity, they prioritise strategies that are often short-term and oriented to service provision rather than advocacy and more militant confrontation.

In the current crisis, resource scarcity shrinks the available range of frames of contestation. It is difficult for these organisations to inflect agendas with multiple axis (race, class, legal status and gender) concerns because these may well de- legitimise their efforts and weaken their competitive advantage vis-à-vis other organisations vying for the same funding. In a context where organizational survival often asserts itself as the dominant concern, the ‘simple and straightforward’ single axis claim may win out, as it does not attempt to straddle issues areas and in so doing contest funding criteria. In this deeply troubling context, who will lobby with and for minority women in the diminishing political field?

Through intersectionality, the differential effects of austerity measures on various social groups can be understood whilst also supporting new examinations of and oppositions to neoliberal hegemony. Analyses of intersectionality andneoliberalism must be combined in order to capture the paradoxical politics currently at play.


Akwugo Emejulu is a lecturer at the Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. Leah Bassel is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Leicester.




All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community (APPG) (2012) Ethnic Minority Female Unemployment: Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Heritage Women First Report of Session 2012-2013London: The Runnymede Trust. 1-27

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BBC (12 March 2013) ‘France to miss deficit target, President Hollande says’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21762247

 Emejulu, A. and Bassel, L. (2013) ‘Between Scylla and Charybdis: Enterprise and Austerity as a Double Hazard for Non-Governmental Organisations in France and the UK’ Briefing Paper for the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES), University of Edinburgh. No. 2, March 2013 http://www.ceres.education.ed.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/Briefing-No.2.pdf

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