Doc. 10605

21 June 2005

The feminisation of poverty

Motion for a recommendation

presented by Mrs Cliveti and others

This motion has not been discussed in the Assembly and commits only the members who have signed it

1.       As victims of discrimination on the labour market, as well as increasingly insecure employment, changes in the structure of families and, indeed, post-communist transition, women are more exposed to the risk of poverty than men in Europe. According to the United Nations, for instance, female poverty has grown disproportionately in relation to male poverty, especially in developed countries, with families headed by women and single and elderly women most at risk from poverty. In the Europe of the 25, women were 21% more likely than men in 2001 to have equivalent incomes (after social transfers) below the poverty risk level (60% of national median equivalised disposable income, Eurostat data). The Assembly is concerned about the increasing female poverty levels noted in recent years in all Council of Europe member states.

2.       Increasing female poverty is reflected in various ways: inadequate income or lack of income for ensuring a decent standard of living; limited access to education and to basic social services; greater risk of debt; and limited involvement in economic, social and cultural activity, leading to social exclusion. Women’s economic position also seems to be weakened by the traditional distribution of roles within the family and by high levels of unemployment and insecure employment among women. On top of that, increasing poverty exposes women to the risk of exploitation, including sexual exploitation.

3.       Poverty has a particularly severe impact on elderly women who receive only small pensions or no pensions at all, especially when they had been economically dependent on their spouses. Moreover, women’s pension levels depend on their employment rate (lower than men’s), their working patterns (full-time or part-time) and periods when they stopped work to bring up children. At the same time, life expectancy for women is generally higher than for men.

4.       Family breakdowns related to conflicts with parents (forced marriages, incest, abuse) and marriage breakdowns, in particular in the case of domestic violence, further increase the risk of poverty among women and girls. The situation of immigrant women abandoned by their husbands is particularly worrying: deprived of income and family support, they face heightened insecurity.

5.       Yet combating social exclusion is one of the Council of Europe’s priority activities. The Council’s revised Strategy for Social Cohesion (2004) provides that “continuing efforts will be made to keep alert to the gender implications of all social policy interventions and to integrate a gender mainstreaming perspective into the activities in this field.” Improving access to fundamental social rights for all citizens is central to this Strategy, in particular with regard to access to social protection, social services, employment and housing. Reducing female poverty is also one of the strategic objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995).

6.       Efforts to combat female poverty must improve access by women to social services and the labour market and boost their productive capacity by giving them access to capital, resources, technology and training so as to break the cycle of poverty.

7.       The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       analyse the structural causes of female poverty, in particular with the aid of the social cohesion indicators defined by the Council of Europe;

ii. call on member governments to:


a       take account of the gender dimension when defining, adopting and implementing national anti-poverty action plans;

b.       adopt mechanisms to give women equal access to social services and social protection and provide them with the means to ensure their economic independence.

Signed 1:

CLIVETI, Minodora, Romania, SOC

AHLQVIST, Birgitta, Sweden, SOC

ANGYALOVÁ, Edita, Slovakia, SOC

AUSTIN, John, United Kingdom, SOC

BİLGEHAN, Gülsün, Turkey, SOC

BRANGER, Jean-Guy, France, EPP/CD

ČURDOVÁ, Anna, Czech Republic, SOC

DAMANAKI, Maria, Greece, SOC

HÄGG, Carina, Sweden, SOC

MUTTONEN, Christine, Austria, SOC

NAGHDALYAN, Hermine, Armenia, LDR


PLATVOET, Leo, Netherlands, UEL


STĂNOIU, Rodica Mihaela, Romania, SOC

STREB-HESSE, Rita, Germany, SOC

VERMOT-MANGOLD, Ruth-Gaby, Switzerland, SOC

WURM, Gisela, Austria, SOC

ZAPFL-HELBLING, Rosmarie, Switzerland, EPP/CD

1        SOC: Socialist Group

      EPP/CD: Group of the European People’s Party

      LDR : Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group

      EDG: European Democratic Group

      UEL: Group of the Unified European Left

      NR: not registered in a group