EWL News

Poverty - Mind the Gap

The EWL on 19 November took part in forming a Human Ring around the European Parliament in solidarity against poverty. Writing in the Parliament Magazine, EWL Secretary General Myria Vassiliadou explains how the EU must address gender inequality issues if it is to have any chance of tackling poverty and social exclusion .

Poverty affects 85 million, or almost one in five, Europeans. The result of inequalities, of which gender inequalities continue to be the most pervasive manifestation, it is not surprising that poverty and social exclusion affect more women than men in every age-group and across the various categories of populations at-risk. This gender dimension is nevertheless hidden, often masked by gender-neutral language and figures, and the most fundamental of structural causes of poverty and social exclusion ignored.

We speak of poverty in old age, but the great majority of pensioners living in poverty are women. We speak of the third of ‘single parents’ who face poverty; 80-90% of them are women. We speak of precarious existences, ‘domestic’ violence and ‘human’ trafficking; 79% of victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation and more than 80% of them are female; one in five women is a victim of domestic violence and 63% of those who flee end up in poverty or even on the street (more than half of the women and girls who become homeless do so because of violence or sexual abuse).

If poverty and social exclusion are to be tackled effectively, the underpinning structural inequalities must be recognised, and dealt with. These are complex and multifaceted, but some key domains for action emerge:

Unequal positions in the labour-market

The most direct cause of women’s economic vulnerability in Europe is their comparatively disadvantaged position in the labour-market. While women are 59% of university graduates in Europe, their average employment rate is under 60%, with figures are low as 37% in Malta. Women represent two-thirds of the 63 million adults classified as ‘inactive’. When employed, their hourly wages are on average 18% lower than men’s. In addition, 31% of women work part-time, as compared to less than 8% of men.

Certain groups of women are particularly vulnerable, facing even more obstacles on the job-market in comparison to their male counterparts. For instance, 63% of women aged 55-64, as compared to 45% of men, are unemployed. Women with disabilities are twice less likely to be employed than men with disabilities. Women living in rural areas, of migrant background and Roma women are other especially vulnerable groups.

The lack of care options

The greatest challenge to female employment in Europe continues to be reconciling work and family life. Women’s employment rate falls by 12.4% when they have children under 12, while it rises by 7.3% for men. 40% of these mothers, compared with 10% of fathers, are unemployed. In addition, 30% of European women say they work part-time in order to care for children or other dependents, and would like to work more if care alternatives were available.

The absence of individualised rights

Excluded from the labour-market or with lower, more precarious incomes, women have lower savings, lower social protection and pension entitlements. In the UK for example, men’s pensions are on average two-thirds higher than women’s. Too often, the absence of individualised taxation and social protection compounds this disparity, rendering women dependent on their partners, and masking their high poverty-risk. Women’s unpaid work in the home, including as assisting partners in family businesses, continues to be ignored and unprotected. In cases of separation, divorce or death of their partner, women’s risk of poverty is estimated at 36%, against 11% for men.
Fundamental changes needed

The high levels of inequality in Europe are intolerable, a human rights as well as an economic issue. Eliminating these gaps would not only reduce poverty levels, but increase the prosperity of society as a whole. The European Union has a duty to protect the most vulnerable, to promote equality and to invest in its people, women and men alike. In voting for strong maternity and paternity leave provisions, the European Parliament recently took a step in this direction. We trust this is just the start, and that together, step by step, we will work to achieve a more equal and just society, free from the scourge of poverty and social exclusion.

Watch the Commission news clip about the human ring:

Watch the SOLIDAR video of the human ring:

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Loud and United to end violence against women and girls, European Women’s Lobby Conference, 6 December 2017, Brussels.

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