International Women's Day: Toward greater gender parity?

Brussels. 07 March 2016

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International Women's Day, 8 March 2016

Under the topic 'Pledge for Parity', this year's International Women's Day' reminds us of the persisting challenges faced by many women across the world: discrimination, violence and higher risk of poverty remain overwhelmingly female issues, while the large majority of decision makers are still men. This situation affects women at all stages of their lives, but, with inequalities tending to accumulate over the life course, this appears to be particularly true for women in their old age.

Last year, the European Commission highlighted again in the Pension Adequacy Report that the gender pension gap stands at almost 40 % - meaning that older women have on average 40% less income than older men. This is more than twice the figure of the gender pay gap (16%). The gender pension gap is a consequence of multiple forms of discrimination: women are still paid less than men for the same job; they are more often than men caring for their children or dependent relatives, making them switch to part-time or taking long unpaid career breaks; women also still work mostly in professions that are paid less and are less likely to be promoted.

This gap is more likely to be reinforced by the recent pension reforms, for moving from pay-as-you-go social security pensions to individual funded pensions will result in less mutualised compensation for career breaks linked to informal care responsibilities. The current political objective to increase the employment rate of women is not enough. A political decision tocompensate, in terms of pension rights, persons who have to reduce their career for legitimate reasons such as informal care, is also needed.

Another solution is the reconciliation of work and family life, as older women also face care responsibilities at home: 70% of care is provided by informal carers, and most of them are women. Older workers with care responsibilities are also less likely to build adequate pension rights – a carer's leave directive is needed to address this challenge, but it should be underpinned by an investment into formal child and eldercare services that support informal carers and care beneficiaries.

Gender discrimination leads to a much higher risk of poverty among older women. According to Eurostat in 2014, 23 % of women over 55 lived at risk of poverty and social exclusion, almost 5 % more than men. Among older women, those with the highest poverty rates are older working-age women (55-65) and older women aged 75+. Unfortunately no statistics are available for women over 85 who face additional difficulties: many of them can no longer count on their spouse's income and are living alone; due to inadequate indexation of pensions their income is further eroding while their living costs are rising because they might need more medical and long-term care.

The European Parliament has recently released a research report on older women living alone and is currently working on a new report looking at the gender dimension of poverty. AGE hopes that it will also consider the status of older women, whose rights oten remain invisible, as the UN Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons warned in her recent report.

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Monday 07 March 2016
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