Call for EU leaders to address gender equality

Anne-Sophie Parent explains why it's so important to highlight the impact of economic reforms and the challenges they present for older women.

By Anne-Sophie Parent

07 Mar 2014

Faced with unprecedented economic and demographic challenges, governments are looking to reduce further pressure on public budgets, including from social protection and pension systems. However, little attention has been paid so far to assess the ultimate impact of these reforms on women and their future old-age income. The majority of older people are women and the highest poverty rates among older people are concentrated among very old women. For that reason, we insist that taking account of the gender impact when reforming social protection systems and labour markets is absolutely essential. Decision makers must keep in mind that the discriminations faced by women in the workplace have lasting consequences throughout their lives, putting many of them in risk of poverty in old age. Unless women's specific needs are addressed in a life-cycle perspective, inequalities will keep on aggravating.

"Decision makers must keep in mind that the discriminations faced by women in the workplace have lasting consequences throughout their lives"

We consider that more ambitious measures promoting gender equality at every stage of life through reducing career and pay gap are thus urgently needed. It is also imperative to guarantee non-contributory income safety nets in order to keep women with no individual pension rights out of poverty. The recent reforms introduced in the pension systems across the EU tend to re-individualise old age risks through a move from public to private occupational pension schemes which strengthen the link between contributions and benefits. This will result in even greater gender income gap in old age in the coming decades if nothing is done to address wage inequalities and compensate women's career breaks and part time employment due to family responsibilities, which prevent them from contributing equally to men. On average in the EU, 31.5 per cent of women and only 8.3 per cent of men work part-time. This gap will increase in the future as a result of social services cuts which will put the duty to care for young children and elderly dependent relatives back on the shoulders of informal carers, i.e. women and in particular women aged 45 plus.

This cumulating effect is not only true for pay or career gap, but also for the multiple discriminations that many women have been experiencing in their lives on the basis of race, sexual orientation or capacities.

In order to highlight all these challenges faced by older women, AGE has joined forces with the European Women's Lobby (EWL) to release a common paper 'Improving the situation of older women in the EU in the context of an ageing society and rapidly changing socio-economic environment', which further raises awareness on the negative impact of recent austerity measures on this population group and the need for approaching this issue from a holistic life course perspective.

Together with EWL, we also seize the occasion of the International Women's Day, to jointly call on EU leaders to address gender equality through Europe 2020 by mainstreaming its social objectives in the economic processes of the European Semester. By doing so, EU policy leaders will ensure that progress in economic reforms will deliver social progress and justice for all citizens and improve socio-economic cohesion within and among member states. The needs of the most vulnerable population groups - including older women - must be addressed through stronger EU coordination of social protection and employment reforms, in full respect of Europe 2020 objective on inclusive growth for the benefit of all population and age groups.

Read the most recent articles written by Anne-Sophie Parent - The journey to age equality

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