The analysis limits its understanding of poverty to only being a consequence of existing inequalities between women and men in the labour market. Most EU strategies and policies fail to incorporate the structural dimension of poverty and gender, which produces multiplier effects and limits the effectiveness of policies and measures. In fact, social cohesion is a policy objective that cannot be reached solely by increasing employment rates.
Poverty depends on the organisation of and interlinks between all sectors of society: the labour market, the family, social security systems, political life, the functioning of democratic institutions, etc. The structural dimension of poverty is closely related to its gender dimension, which goes beyond the statement that women are a potentially vulnerable group of citizens. Gendered society and poverty are interconnected phenomena; they grow together and are mutually reinforced in periods of economic crisis.
In this sense, the feminisation of poverty is not only a quantitative trend but also has a qualitative dimension. Progress in reducing gender gaps in the labour market is interrupted by the economic crisis. Male-dominated sectors were the first to be hit by the crisis. Gender gaps were reduced. In the second phase of the recession and the economic crisis, women’s employment became more precarious, temporary and poorly paid. Women moved from the public to the private sector, where they were more exposed to the deregulation of working conditions. In addition, we distinguish two qualitative trends that multiply the effects of poverty on gender as a consequence of the economic crisis. Highlighting two vicious cycles of gendered poverty may reveal the limits of anti-poverty policies when they target only individuals and not the organisation of society as a whole.
The first vicious cycle is generational. Poverty is transmitted to the younger generations through socialisation, especially by poor mothers. Risks of poverty for women and men have different impacts on future generations. This impact cannot be measured with numbers and statistics describing the current situation of poverty.
The second cycle is sociopolitical. As women and their paid and unpaid work are situated at the boundary between the labour market and the family, risks of poverty for women have a multiplier effect across different parts of society. Lower participation in the labour market increases women’s domestic and caring responsibilities. Women with caring tasks become more vulnerable to temporary and precarious jobs. Political life may be also affected by this vicious cycle of poverty. Poverty creates a fertile ground for the emergence of racist, sexist and homophobic discourses and gender violence. In countries more strongly hit by the economic crisis, poverty has a very negative impact on human rights and democratic procedures. Extreme ideologies may be downplayed during times of economic growth and a flourishing social welfare state, but in times of increasing poverty they may find space to expand.