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How poverty and inequality are affecting women – in Ireland, in Europe and across the globe

Published: Thursday, January 29, 2015

As many of the world’s economic decision makers recently gathered in Davos, Oxfam International published a shocking report on Wealth: Having it all and wanting more which highlighted that at current rates the combined wealth of the richest 1 per cent in the world will overtake that of the other 99 per cent of people during 2016.

A widening divide can also be seen across Europe and Ireland. There is, however, an important further layer to this crisis; it is women who are suffering many of the worst impacts of this economic inequality.

At today’s seminar “Women and Economic Inequality”,  organised by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and Oxfam Ireland, speakers from an International, European and Irish perspective highlighted the detrimental impact austerity and growing economic inequality are having on the lives of women.

Jim Clarken, CEO of Oxfam Ireland said,

“Equality for women is not just about numbers and quotas – or only women themselves. It is a society-wide issue. As the gap between the richest 1% and the rest of us becomes wider, gender equality is at the heart of this challenge. Inclusive economic growth requires policies that close the gap between men and women, as well as between rich and poor. Until we have a zero tolerance approach to inequality between men and women, we will all lose out.”

Mary Collins, Policy Officer, European Women’s Lobby, Brussels highlighted,

“Right across Europe, we have a gender pay gap of 16% which widens to a shocking 39% gender pension gap, leaving many older women living in poverty. Austerity and unemployment have caused great hardship in countries such as Greece where, for young women under the age of 30, soaring unemployment rates of over 50% compromise not only incomes but economic independence for future generations of women.”

Speaking about the situation in Ireland, Alice-Mary Higgins, Policy Officer with NWCI stated,

“We now see the full consequences of austerity measures during recent years. 63% of lone parents in Ireland are experiencing deprivation according to latest SILC data. ESRI figures  show that women in couples experienced a 14% drop in income compared with 9% of men during the recession.  Recent figures from the CSO tell us that 50% of all women workers are now earning €20,000 or less. 
Women are being faced not just with the loss of jobs but with a dangerous erosion in the quality and security of jobs. Aggressive casualisation and the lack of affordable, accessible childcare are pushing more women workers into low pay and precarious part-time work. NWCI are calling on the Government to invest into childcare and ensure the voices of women workers are at the heart of the Low Pay Commission.”

Orla O’Connor, Director of NWCI concluded,

“Be it at International, European or national level, this debate is not just about how economic prob-lems affect women. It is about recognising that women’s equality and policies that support care, decent work and secure pensions are an essential part of sustainable economic solutions.”

For more information, please contact Silke Paasche, Head of Communications, National Women’s Council of Ireland, Tel. 085 858 9104 or Helena MacNamara, Oxfam Ireland, Tel. 086 7744 883                

Notes to the Editor:
The issues of this seminar and other issues concerning women's rights and equality will be explored in more detail at the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission's joint one-day high-level conference "A Woman's Place is in the World! - Have Your say on Beijing +20" taking place in Dublin Castle on 20 February 2015. The conference coincides with the United Nations Beijing +20 process, reviewing progress in achieving the goals of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action since 1995.