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13th Apr 2024

MEPs: Cost-of-living crisis means poverty 'has a female face'

  • The plenary debate, which lasted less than an hour, was mainly attended by women — only six male MEPs, as counted by EUobserver, made a statement (Photo: Alisdare Hickson)
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Poverty has a female face, MEPs agreed on Thursday (18 January), passing a resolution which calls on both the EU Commission and member states to strengthen the gender perspective in their green and social plans.

The report was carried with 383 votes in favour, 99 against and 71 abstentions.

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"Across the continent, millions of EU citizens are struggling to make ends meet and are forced to choose between 'heating or eating'," lead MEP Alice Kuhnke (Greens/EFA) said during the plenary debate in Strasbourg.

Between 50 million and 125 million people are unable to afford proper indoor thermal comfort across the EU, according to the EU Commission itself — and women, globally and in the EU, are more likely to experience or fall into energy poverty.

"We are more financially vulnerable, we have access to more precarious jobs, and we have care overload that prevents us from working longer hours to earn more," MEP Lina Gálvez Muñoz (S&D) argued on Wednesday.

Already in 2021, there were over 20 million more women than men living below the poverty line index in the EU. The Covid-19 pandemic then worsened the existing inequalities between men and women, reads the parliament's report.

According to the latest Gender Equality Index of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), women's earnings are less than 70 percent of men's, and they spend twice as much time in unpaid caregiving than men.

On top of this, the EU's plans for a green transition could deepen or at least perpetuate the status quo if an ambitious gender perspective is not implemented, MEPs recalled.

"This commission promised to leave no one behind in the green transition, (...) but unfortunately, has delivered a green deal and energy policies that are completely gender blind," Kuhnke said.

The links between gender equality and the policy areas of the EU Green Deal have not been made in a particularly "comprehensive" way, the EIGE analysis shows.

And women are already under-represented in green jobs, OECD analysis indicates.

In 2021, more than seven-in-10 green jobs in OECD countries were filled by men, while only 24 percent of the EU's energy workforce, for example, is female.

Despite the figures, not everyone in the chamber agreed to focus on the gender aspect of the issue, with MEPs from the far-right groups such as ID and ECR stressing that assessing which group is most affected by this crisis is not the solution but mere ideology.

Even MEP Isabella Adinolfi, speaking on behalf of the centre-right European People's Party, did not specifically mention the gender aspect of the issue during her speech.

However, her Irish colleague Maria Walsh stressed the importance of addressing the so-called 'pink tax', which isn't really a tax at all, but refers to the fact that products marketed to women, such as razors, deodorants and shampoos, cost more than equivalent products marketed to men.

"The discriminatory pricing exacerbates period poverty and leaves many unable to afford these necessary items," Walsh said.

"No one should bear a price tag for their gender", she added, highlighting that women face unnecessary additional costs during an already difficult cost-of-living crisis.

The plenary debate, which lasted less than an hour, was mainly attended by women — only six male MEPs, as counted by EUobserver, made a statement.

"This is not a question of ideology, this is a sad reality," EU commissioner for jobs Nicolas Schmit stated at the end of the debate.

The EU target is to lift at least 15 million people out of poverty by 2030, including at least five million children.

In 2022 (the most recent year for which data are available), the total number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion remained at the same level as 2020.

Yet the latest figures on child poverty shows that the number of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the EU has risen again to 24.7 percent, almost one-in-four.

Enrico Tormen, senior advocacy advisor at Save the Children Europe, told EUobserver back in June 2023 that these targets are no longer ambitious, as they were set before the current series of crises.

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