The economic crisis has led to an increase in the number of people living in poverty, with women particularly affected. In order to ensure equal opportunities in our society, specific measures must be developed and implemented to eliminate the causes of female poverty.
Currently, more than 65 million women in Europe are living in poverty – the causes of which are manifold:
Single mothers are particularly affected by poverty, with inevitable consequences for the circumstances and prospects of their children. So we must not only improve the situation of women; we must also take action against child poverty. Children who grow up in poverty are often ill due to poor nutrition and lack the financial resources to take part in school events, hindering their integration and making them less likely to be accepted by their peers. If a child’s start in life fails, it is hard to catch up. Only by ending child poverty can we forge a society in which everyone has the same chances from birth.
Then there is discrimination in the labour market, where stereotypes surrounding society’s conception of the ‘traditional mother’ also have a big influence. Women are often in precarious employment – including part-time work – and it is often claimed that women’s income is only supplementary. Women also find themselves forced into service occupations which are very poorly paid. Further, discrimination means women can find it hard to a get a job at all because they have a child or may have a child in the future. Childcare provision is insufficient in many countries and frequently prohibitively expensive. And salary discrimination persists, particularly among higher-paid positions – public disclosure of salaries would therefore be advantageous.
Finally, the pension gap, which puts women in a situation of poverty in old age, is another factor in female poverty. Throughout their lives, women receive lower pay and fall victim to the unfair disparity in career prospects between men and women. Thus, women are more likely to have no social security in retirement. In this way, a woman’s life is characterised by discrimination – in their formative years, in the workplace and in childcare (not to mention care for elderly family members), a cycle which is reproduced for their children. This is how the poverty trap is created.
Effective gender discrimination policies must be put in place in all EU Member States:
We have to start with child and women’s poverty. We must tackle child poverty and ensure that all children have access to health care, education, culture and a balanced diet. The EU youth guarantee must be gender-specific in order to prevent female poverty. Equal opportunities for in-company training and career advancement must be made possible. Last, but not least, the pay gap in Europe must be closed along Icelandic lines – where, since January 2018, the law specifically prohibits companies from paying women and men unequally for work of equal value. This also means maternity, paternity and parental leave that is fit-for-purpose.
For many, reconciling work with a private and family life is a daily balancing act; equal access for women to gainful employment and the same income as their male counterparts requires policymakers to establish a level playing field.
There is a lot to do in the field of equality, but nothing is impossible. We women must continue to fight for our rights.