In the EU 2020 Strategy, gender equality and non discrimination are considered horizontal principles to be mainstreamed in policies against poverty and social exclusion by member states. The target of the EU 2020 Strategy against social exclusion is to “lift 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion”. Elderly women and female heads of single-parent families are included in the groups at risk of poverty. Increasing employment is implicitly an important tool for combating women’s poverty. The EU 2020 objective is to reach a 75% activity rate for all (from the current rate of 63% for women).
Economic independence of women is the first of the six top priorities of the Strategy for Equality between women and men 2010–2015. Gender gaps in terms of poverty and social exclusion are highlighted as follows:. “Women face a higher poverty risk, particularly lone parents and the elderly, when the pay gap becomes a ‘pension gap’. Barriers to employment are also reflected in higher inactivity rates and higher long-term unemployment rates. In addition, amongst disadvantaged groups (i.e. migrant workers, disabled, elderly) gender gaps tend to be much wider and cause many problems for women. Active ageing policies and specific measures in the pension sector are needed to ensure that women have adequate means when they retire”.
In accordance with the above two policy documents, the Common Provision Regulation for the Structural Funds 2014–2020 states in Article 7 that “the Member States and the Commission shall ensure that equality between men and women and the integration of gender perspective are taken into account and promoted throughout the preparation and implementation of programmes, in relation to monitoring, reporting and evaluation.”
The European Parliament has expressed worries about increased poverty of women in the context of the ongoing economic and social crisis. In a non-binding resolution it argues that the position of women in the EU has been affected by the economic crisis in specific ways that impact more on their every-day lives. The resolution refers to “a silent crisis” that is taking place in the EU and is linked to the crisis of welfare, education, care and social provisions. The resolution specifically identifies budgets cuts and reduced government spending as a cause of this silent crisis. The resolution urges the European Commission and member states to take measures to boost job training, re-skilling, teleworking and female entrepreneurship, as well as to fight against gender stereotypes in the workplace and encourage women to enter professions in which they are under-represented. With its direct reference to national governments’ choices and strategies with regards to public spending and welfare priorities, this resolution is a significant step towards a more concrete approach to gender mainstreaming in policies against poverty.
Despite the strong commitment expressed in official EU policy documents like those mentioned above, gender equality is not properly integrated into the national policies that are supposed to follow the EU guidelines and policy priorities. One of the reasons for this mismatch between EU objectives and effective national policies is that a gender analysis of poverty is not able to grasp the full range of gendered dimensions of poverty. EU documents tend to understand poverty as an individual characteristic that can be counteracted by increasing employment rates of women, as more women in the labour market will certainly reduce the number of poor women.