Female poverty trap: a gender gap from pay to pension

My mother was both a single mother and of a non-EU migrant background; the two categories of women with the highest risk of poverty in Europe. If I was a child growing up today, I could have been one of millions of children who never gets the chance to reach their full potential in life simply because of the inequalities their parents face due to social status and gender.

Gender and poverty was the topic of the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) committee hearing on 30 March where the committee presented its report on the main causes of female poverty. All panelists reiterated the same point: lone households of single women and women from a non-EU background, and their children, are the most affected by poverty in Europe. Women with disabilities and Roma women are also highly vulnerable.

According to Agnieszka Gehringer, University of Goettingen, women across the European Union (EU) experience a 16% gender pay gap, and an AGE Platform Europe report has revealed that this figure is more than doubled to 39% when we look at the gender pension gap. Poverty today increases faster and decreases slower than it did in 2008, warned Dr Yekaterina Chzhen (UNICEF Office of Research), and children are severely and disproportionately affected.

Despite my parents’ background, I was in a more privileged position than many other children in the EU because I was lucky enough to be raised in one of the Nordic countries. The FEMM committee’s report shows that these are the countries that manage poverty the best because most people can access services, such as health care, education and child care. Our member COFACE has produced a Reconciliation Package of recommendations on how the EU can tackle some of these issues. Dr Wim Van Lancker (University of Antwerp) confirmed that poverty affects families based on the composition of the household, and when both parents are not working 73% of children end up in poverty. Some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) raised concerns about the increase in gender-based violence due to poverty, which the European Women’s Lobby and Oxfam highlighted in their 2010 joint report.

Professor Diane Perrons (London School of Economics) made the point that economic and social policies must be examined together and gender mainstreaming taken seriously by the EU in all its policies. Maria Stratigaki (Panteion University) opposed female poverty being seen as an individual problem; it is a societal matter and must be solved as such. It has multiplying effects, transferred from one generation to another, and political repercussions where societies that experience poverty and social exclusion also face a rise in extremism, as we have witnessed in Greece. In other words, poverty feeds racism, sexism and homophobia and it destroys human rights and democracy.

On 20-21 April Heather Roy, President of Social Platform, will be participating in a workshop on “Poverty and Social Exclusion” at the European Commission’s forum on “The Future of Gender Equality”. Social inclusion and combating poverty is one of Social Platform’s main areas of work, and we have developed our position on migration, poverty and social exclusion (2013).

For further information about the work of our members on women and poverty, please consult the links below: