An Invisible Crisis? Women's poverty and social exclusion in the European Union at a time of recession - A GenderWorks paper

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All over the world, women remain poor in relation to men. This also is true in every member state of the European Union. The persistence of poverty in such a rich region of the world is shocking, even before the impact of recession has been considered.In October 2009, Oxfam and the European Women’s Lobby, commissioned research to explore and analyse the hidden impact of the current economic recession on women’s poverty in the EU. This was conducted as part of the GenderWorks project on women’s poverty and social inclusion in Europe, funded by the European Commission and led by Oxfam. The report documents evidence of: precarious working conditions
  Oxfam International/European Women’s Lobby, March 2010A GenderWorks paper  Women’s poverty and social exclusion in the European Union at a time of recession An Invisible Crisis?  GenderWorks2  Acknowledgments Oxfam and EWL wish to thank Olga Pietruchova, Sandy Ruxton and Sue Smith for all their work and commitment to this project. We are grateful to the member organisations of EWL who responded at very short notice to a detailed questionnaire, whilst juggling the huge demands of sustaining underfunded women’s organisations. GenderWorks is a two-year project (2007-09), funded by the European Commission under PROGRESS, to investigate women’s experiences of poverty and social exclusion in Europe, and policy processes to improve their lives. Oxfam is the lead agency, with partner organisations in Italy and Austria. Women’s poverty and social exclusion in the European Union at a time of recession An Invisible Crisis?  Background to this report Oxfam’s work on UK poverty Oxfam’s programme in the UK aims to: develop projects with people living in poverty to improve their lives and show how things can change; raise public and politicians’ awareness of poverty and its causes; and lobby to bring about change. The programme works in the areas of gender, livelihoods, labour rights, social cohesion, and changing public attitudes to poverty. Oxfam believes that policies to tackle poverty and social inclusion will be more effective if excluded women’s needs are mainstreamed into policy and practice. In line with this approach, Oxfam has been involved with partners in Austria and Italy, in the transnational ‘GenderWorks’ project during 2007-09, funded by the European Commission’s ‘PROGRESS’ Programme. In the UK, GenderWorks has trained groups of women at grassroots level to hold decision-makers to account and has encouraged decision-makers to use gender analysis to reveal the position of women. European Women’s Lobby The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU). The Secretariat is based in Brussels, but EWL has member organisations in all 27 member states of the EU and 21 European-wide organisations in full membership. EWL aims to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men in the EU. The Lobby is active in relation to a range of issues at EU level, including gender equality policies and gender mainstreaming, economic and social justice for women, women in decision making, violence against women, and gender and immigration/asylum. In relation to poverty and social exclusion, the focus of EWL’s recent work has been on monitoring the social dimension of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, ensuring that women’s rights and gender equality issues are central to debates and policies on demography, work on care issues, and the promotion of gender mainstreaming in EU Strategy against Poverty and Social Exclusion.  Gender and Social Inclusion 3 Contents Executive summary 41: Introduction 8 ã The existing picture of poverty 8ã Context of the crisis 8ã Background to the report 8ã Limitations and gaps in data 92: The impact of the recession 11ã Poverty and standard of living 12ã Changing employment patterns 13ã Discrimination against women in the workplace 16ã Unpaid work and care economy 18ã Women of migrant and ethnic srcin 19ã Violence against women 20ã Trafcking, prostitution and poverty 21ã Social benets 22ã Access to essential services (health, education, childcare) 23ã Support for women’s NGOs 263. Policy responses 274. Conclusions 30Appendicesã List of organisations that responded to the qualitative research 33 ã Survey questionnaire 33References 35  GenderWorks4GenderWorks  Executive Summary In October 2009, Oxfam and the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) commissioned research to explore and analyse the hidden impact of the current economic recession on women’s poverty in EU countries. The research was conducted with EWL member organisations, and supplemented with other research and information available at the end of 2009. Oxfam and EWL conclude that the research gives a snapshot of the current position of women in poverty, reinforcing what is already known about the persistent social exclusion experienced by many women. It also provides some evidence that the impact of recession is making the inequality faced by women even worse. It is difficult to separate out evidence of women’s long-term poverty from the effect of the current recession  – and further research is needed in this area. But the evidence here clearly indicates that the recession is already having a significant negative effect on the lives of women, not only in relation to the labour market, but also, crucially, outside it. However, the impact of the recession – direct and indirect – on women remains largely invisible, and further in-depth analysis is urgently required. This report documents evidence of: precarious working conditions; increasing discrimination in the labour market with a subsequent shift to informal work; rising levels of poverty; reduced access to services; and rising levels of domestic violence, accompanied by cuts in vital support services. Key findings of research: ã Policy responses to poverty in general, and to economic recession in particular, need to acknowledge that poverty is gendered. Poverty has a differential impact on women and men, based on their different roles and responsibilities, and on the responses of governments. Both men and women lose jobs and earnings, but who loses what depends on the structure of the economy, and the extent to which policies are gender-blind or gender-sensitive. ã Existing macro-economic data is not sufciently sensitive to reveal both existing poverty and the effects of recession, on women’s lives. For example, the data available on the first ‘wave’ of the recession tends to show a significant loss of jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors (where more men work). But the impact on women’s poverty is less visible, because women are less likely than men to register as unemployed. Women are also more likely to work in part-time and poorly-paid sectors of the economy, which are less well measured. ã The impact of the recession is signicant and damaging for both men and women living in poverty. This report tracks the impact for women as a whole, and particularly for members of vulnerable groups, who face multiple disadvantages. The latter are likely to include the young and the elderly, migrants and ethnic minorities, the low-skilled, those with short-term contracts, single mothers, women in rural areas, those aged over 45, and women with disabilities. ã Priorities for government action are often based on a norm, which prioritises subsidies to, for example, car plants and the construction industry which tend to employ men, over subsidies to sectors such as textiles or retail which employ more women. ã Reductions in public expenditure will always have a major – and disproportionate – impact on women’s livelihoods, as women are in the majority in the public sector workforce. For example, across the EU, whereas 80 per cent of construction workers are male, 78 per cent of health and social services workers, and over 60 per cent of teachers in primary and secondary education, are female. ã The impact of the recession on women is likely to become more acute over time as the effects of labour-market shifts are increasingly felt within households, and cuts in public expenditure affect public services and the many women who work in them and use them. Women and poverty in Europe Existing poverty All over the world, women remain poor in relation to men. This is true in every member state in Europe, although differentials vary from country to country. Just under 17 per cent of women in the EU’s 27 countries are classed as living in poverty, and across a range of indicators in the labour market and in social protection, the structural causes of poverty have a disproportionate impact on women. The continued existence of women’s poverty has long been a concern of the EU, and a range of measures supporting gender equality and tackling poverty demonstrate the continuing significance of women’s social inclusion as an issue. The persistence of poverty in such a rich region of the world is shocking, even before the impact of recession has been considered. This report provides evidence of that continuing and underlying poverty experienced by women in the EU, and adds some evidence of the additional impact of the recession.Debate about tackling recession among policy-makers currently focuses on attempts to regulate the financial sector, and on whether governments should withdraw financial stimulus packages (and if so, when). But it is essential not to lose sight of the huge and continuing social impact of the recession, and of the different consequences for women and men – especially those facing poverty and social exclusion.
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