The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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Women in poverty and social exclusion

Thursday, 11 March 2021, 09:24 Last update: about 3 years ago

By Mikela Abela

Women are constantly fighting battles. Over the years, our fight has been shaped around various social aspects: from fighting for universal suffrage, to the fight against discrimination, violence and femicide; to other social struggles including the right to be paid equally to men for work of the same value and equal representation on boards, in Parliament and other key leadership roles.

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One of the pillars on the United Nation’s agenda is the fight against poverty. We cannot not acknowledge the advancement both locally, and internationally with regard to quality of life, however it is still a reality that there are people who fall within the margin of poverty line, and in some cases, women tend to be more exposed to poverty. It was reported by the UN in 2015  that women were more likely to experience poverty or social exclusion than men by 1.4 percentage points (the rate for women stood at 24.4 %, while for men it was 23.0 %).

Even though we do not have a Roma community here in Malta, like we see in the EU institutions’ capital, and begging is out of the norm, it cannot go unnoticed that we still have people who are in the risk of poverty. And thus, that is why governments have to strive to protect such people in vulnerable situations, particularly during times like these where the Covid-19 pandemic has put the people at more risk.

In the majority of countries, the at-risk-of-poverty rate is higher among women than the at-risk-of poverty rate among men. The gender gap in poverty is higher among older age groups and reflects inequalities rooted in the labour market. Women have less chances to achieve an adequate pension due to lower employment rates, more frequent part-time employment than men, and lower wages.

What about single mothers? Between 1980 and 2000 there was an increase of childbirth out of wedlock which continued to double between 2000-2012 and continued to increase in 2013. Eurostat data from 2015 also tells us that almost 50 % of all single parents were at risk of poverty or social inclusion. Women are particularly affected as they make up almost 85% of all one-parent families in the EU. Single mothers are the breadwinner and caregivers for their children, which makes it difficult to balance – working in full-time employment makes it difficult to take care of the children, meanwhile working in part time employment will make it difficult to sustain the family. In the long run, if working part-time this will eventually impact the level of pensions they receive as it will be lower than the usual amount. 

The cause of women at high risk of poverty are lower employment of women, wage gaps and intra-household distribution of resources guided by patriarchal values. To this list should be added unequal access to property, career interruptions due to lack of childcare, segregation in education and later in the labour market which leads to women occupying jobs that are less well-rewarded (i.e. jobs in social services vs. jobs in IT technologies), unequal share of duties related to the maintenance of household and family care, etc. But what is the root of these inequalities? Basically, these factors that generate higher poverty of women are rooted in unequal power relations that are institutionalised in the key institutions of our societies: political institutions ( the EU-27 share of women among members of national parliaments is only 22%), economic organizations (in the EU-27 there are only 16% of women among companies’ board members) , but also in the sphere of private relations in households and families (women perform 77.1% of all domestic activities in the EU) . These power struggles are deeply rooted in the norms and values of society and are reproduced through mechanisms of discrimination.

That is why the EU Commission’s proposed Directive on Women on Boards, led by the Maltese Commissioner Helena Dalli, and the Government’s effort to increase more representation of the under-represented sex in The House of Representatives are important.

More women in decision making roles could shed light on these issues too. The Maltese Government over the past eight years has revolutionized the system to increase the female work force exponentially, because we can contribute to the economic needs of our country too. Women have to be financially independent, that is how we can achieve autonomy.

Thus, with this principle in mind, the Labour Government has implemented measures such as the provision of free childcare services so that women will have the facility to work in full-time employment and with the in-work benefit, amongst other benefits and schemes. Such benefits are beneficial, however there is more that can be done. That is why I encourage Government to continue considering other initiatives, such as the reduction of VAT tax on sanitary products, as this would really be beneficial to all women, particularly to those who are not in employment and are at risk of poverty.

Mikela Abela is the Forum Żgħażagħ Laburisti’s HR Officer 

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