C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Ferić-Vac,
rapporteur for opinion
1 General comments
1. I wish to congratulate Mr Volontè on his excellent
report, which deals with an issue which is particularly relevant
to the situation of women.
2. I particularly welcome the fundamental human rights approach
of his report: poverty is a barrier to exercising human rights.
Political, civil, social and cultural rights are all affected by
poverty. There cannot be genuine enjoyment of human rights unless
poverty is addressed.
I would like to add that, at the same time, the full respect
of human rights, including gender equality, can have a direct impact
on the reduction of poverty, and help transform a vicious circle
into a virtuous cycle. A small example will suffice to explain this
dynamics: according to recent studies, eliminating the gender gap
in employment would allow a gain in gross domestic product of around
30% in the European Union countries.Note
2 Women: a higher incidence of poverty
Women have a higher incidence of poverty than men
and their poverty tends to be more severe. In addition, poverty
among women is on the rise. In the European Union, 17% of women
are in poverty compared to 15% of men.Note
The Parliamentary Assembly highlighted these phenomena in
its Resolution 1558 (2007)
the feminisation of poverty, in which it stated that preventing
and eradicating women’s poverty was an important part of the fundamental
principle of social solidarity. It also invited Council of Europe
member states to regard gender equality not only as a condition
for social justice, but also as a condition for the promotion of development.
6. The incidence of poverty is even higher when one considers
specific groups, such as single mothers, elderly women and migrant
3 Causes of women’s poverty
7. Women’s relative poverty a single deep root: the
inequality and discrimination to which they are subjected.
8. Because of inequality and discrimination, women face
barriers in entering the labour market and often find themselves
in a situation of economic dependence on their partner or other
Data on employment rates show a remarkable gap between women
and men. In 2008, in the European Union, this gap ranged from less
than 5% in Italy to 30% in Estonia, with numerous countries showing
figures around 25%.NoteNote
10. Recent trends show that the gender gap in the employment rate
is decreasing, as a result of an increasing proportion of women
entering the labour market in most European countries. However,
these figures should not deceive us, as a large proportion of women
are employed part-time or accept jobs for which they are overqualified,
in an attempt to reconcile professional life and family commitments.
3.2 Part-time and fixed-term work
11. Women’s participation in the labour market is largely
characterised by a high share of part-time work. Their share of home duties is
generally larger than men’s and their employment is more often based
on part-time and fixed-term contracts.
In 2008, in European Union member states, the share of women
employees working part-time was 31.1%, while the corresponding figure
for men was 7.9%. Female part-timers exceeded 35% in Denmark and Luxembourg,
40% in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom
and even exceeded 75% in the Netherlands. Conversely, the share
of part-timers among women workers was very low in most central and
eastern European countries and in the Baltic countries. Overall
figures of women part-timers are increasing.Note
3.3 Women’s interrupted work cycle
13. Women’s careers are often less linear than men’s
and punctuated by interruptions linked to the need to care for children
or other family members. This is not always a free choice. While
some women choose to leave their work and be full-time carers, others
are compelled to do so by the absence of care facilities. Child
care is still considered largely a woman’s task. A number of European
countries do not have paid paternity leave and paid parental leave,
which would encourage men to take a shared responsibility for caring
3.4 Wage gap
The gender gap is striking when it comes to wages.
On average, women earn 18% less than men. The pay gap varies in
European Union countries, ranging from 5% to 23%. The latter figures
refer to Germany, where recently published data show that the pay
gap, expressed as the percentage difference in average gross hourly
earnings between women and men, has been constant over the last
This can be only partly explained by
segregation and different work cycles: women still earn less than
men for doing exactly the same job.
In its Resolution
on the wage gap between women and men, the
Assembly reiterated the call for equal pay, a right first proclaimed
sixty years ago which remains widely and systematically violated
– without even receiving much attention. The Assembly also recommended
that the Committee of Ministers give this subject the priority it
deserves in the field of fighting discrimination against women,
and reinforce its efforts to guarantee that the right to equal pay
for work of equal value is respected in all member states so that
the gender wage gap may be eliminated. This should apply both to
the public and the private sector.
3.5 Economic dependence
16. A number of women find themselves in poverty following
a divorce, when their former spouses, who are in general economically
stronger, do not fulfil their post-divorce financial obligations.
Even during marriage, and even among the poorest, the household
income is shared unequally to the disadvantage of women. Expenditures
are also unequally shared among the household members, as men tend
to spend for their personal needs, whereas women spend more for
4 Categories particularly at risk
Poverty is particularly common among elderly women
(about 23% of women over 65 in Europe live in poverty)Note
because of the way they were treated while employed – as they accumulated
lower earnings in comparison to men over their life-cycle – and,
in any case, when they have never been employed.
18. The way retirement pensions are structured also has an impact
of the situation of elderly women: pension schemes are now proving
outmoded, as they were originally designed for men and they are
not adapted to women’s careers.
19. Last year’s report of the Committee on Equal Opportunities
for Women and Men on “Decent pensions for women” recommended revising
traditional pension systems which favour the linear career paths
of men and are disconnected from the realities of present-day society.
It asked for positive measures in favour of women, in order to take
into account career breaks and the different career patterns of
women and men, such as guaranteeing a personal pension entitlement.
It called, among other things, for a greater solidarity between women
and men when earned pension entitlement is insufficient, and recommended
measures to help elderly persons, such as granting a minimum pension
or an overall income which should be at least equal to the national
20. Household structure can also increase the risk of poverty.
Having dependant children and living alone are factors that can
lead closer to or below the poverty line. Recent studies on the
“working poor” (people who have a job but are nonetheless in poverty)
in Europe show that the most vulnerable categories are monoparental
families and those that consist of only one employed member with
21. The main element to be considered is the work-intensity of
the household, that is, the number of workers in the household in
relation to the number of members. The risk-of-poverty rate among
single parents is 33%, almost double that in the general population.
It is worth underlining that 80% to 90% of single parents are women:
Eurostat data show that out of the 200 million private households
in the European Union in 2009, 4% were single mothers whereas only
0.5% were single fathers.
22. The consequences of poverty are often dramatic. Research
consistently finds that strong links exist between suicide, attempted
suicide and poverty. Besides these most extreme cases, poverty ultimately undermines
the social fabric. People at risk of poverty or currently under
the poverty line tend to be excluded from decent housing and their
children have more difficult access to education.
23. I cannot but support the call made by the Social, Health and
Family Affairs Committee on the Committee of Ministers to review
its programme of activities and to introduce transversal actions
aimed at combating poverty and improving access for people experiencing
poverty to all human rights – civil, political, economic, social
24. Considering that women are particularly affected by poverty,
it is crucial that initiatives and measures taken in this field
are based on a gender-specific approach. All policies and programmes
to eradicate poverty and combat social exclusion should be designed
with a gender-specific perspective, at international and national
25. In addition, the example of the Scandinavian countries shows
that it is possible to increase women’s participation in the labour
market also by devising and implementing a far-reaching social policy.
For instance, this progress was made possible, amongst other things,
by making childcare services available free of charge or at affordable
rates. Parental and maternal leave schemes are also factors contributing
to women’s substantial participation to the labour market.
26. In this context, I would like to recall the relevance of the
resolution and Action Plan on “Gender equality: bridging the gap
between de jureandde facto equality”, adopted in
2010 at the 7th meeting of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers
responsible for Equality between Women and Men in Baku.
27. This text calls on the Committee of Ministers to develop specific
gender equality policies and measures, in particular positive action,
including temporary special measures, to eliminate all forms of
discrimination against women and bridge the gap between de jure and de
facto equality. It also recommended measures in respect
of the organisation of working time, the abolition of discrimination
between women and men in the labour market and especially the gender
pay gap, and the development of adequately financed services in favour
28. Council of Europe member states should do their utmost to
implement these recommendations and support the Action Plan. Achieving
de facto equality between women and men is one of the core goals
of our Organisation and at the same time is instrumental to ensuring
that Europe becomes a fairer and richer society.