Maria Arena: Female poverty is the result of a lifetime of discrimination

Poverty has increased in Europe since the economic crisis, with women more likely to live in poverty than men. Parliament's women's rights committee adopted on Tuesday 19 April a report examining how their situation could be improved. We talked to report author Maria Arena, a Belgian member of the S&D group, about the root causes of female poverty and what could be done about it. For more information read our interview and watch the video.

MEP Maria Arena
Maria Arena

Is there a specific problem with female poverty in Europe?

Poverty affects more women than men. In Europe there are now more than 65 million women living in poverty compared to 57 million men.

The reasons for their situation are also different. More women are single parents in charge of their children following a separation. There is also the issue of discrimination in the job market. Austerity programmes in the wake of the crisis have affected women more than men. Women use public services more and are more likely to work in public services. When public services are cut, women are more affected.

Are any groups affected more?

There is an issue with single mothers, so it is not only about dealing with the women's situation, but also about tackling child poverty. In addition women are often employed in precarious jobs and are more likely to have part-time jobs. Although some claim that women want to be in part-time jobs, I am not so sure. Maybe this is the case for more educated people, but not so for the less educated. Having a very precarious job is not a choice.

In addition women are assigned a traditional role. If you cannot get a job because you have a baby or will have a baby, it's discrimination.

Once women retire, the pension puts them in a situation of poverty. While working, they had lower salaries and fewer career opportunities, so they do not have enough social security for their pension.

Throughout their life women are confronted with discrimination  - in education, jobs, childcare, care for the elderly - and this is how they end up poor.

Your reports mentions the influence of stereotypes. Do the reasons of women poverty also lie within our society?

Traditionally men have been associated with work and women with family. We are asking for a legislative approach for parental leave to give men and women the same opportunities to work and also be with their children. As the Scandinavian countries have shown, it is possible to have equality between men and women. Otherwise it would be impossible to fight against female poverty.

What should the EU and the member states do to combat female poverty?

I think the first thing to do is to define what we mean with female poverty in Europe. We need to have more statistics and indicators about that.

We need to have a child guarantee system to fight against child poverty, including access to healthcare, education, culture and adequate nutrition. We then need to have a gender approach for the youth guarantee system to prevent female poverty. Finally, we have to fight for parental leave, ie both paternity and maternity leave to avoid women being discriminated against when they become mothers.

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As Parliament pushes for legislative change to stop gender inequalities driving women into poverty, we hear one woman's story of how abuse left her destitute.

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