Relevance of gender in the policy area

Poverty is both a cause and an effect of social discrimination and exclusion; it is both complex and multidimensional.

It goes beyond a basic lack of resources for surviv­al and extends to the deprivation of civil, social and cultural activities, as well as opportunities for politi­cal engagement and social mobility. It manifests itself in terms of the following: hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or no access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality of illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; and unsafe environments.

Gender differences and inequalities between women and men are a major feature of social exclusion and poverty. When considering the specificities of poverty from a gender perspective, it is important to begin by disentangling the main elements of the phenomenon. Focus needs to be placed on the numerous ways in which women, due to specific economic and social processes, may find themselves deprived of resources essential to their well-being.

Women suffer more than men from different types of poverty. For example, gender inequalities are present in women’s and men’s access to health and long-term care and/or housing and property. In particular, certain categories of women appear to be much more at risk of poverty than men such as women in older age or single parents. Women are less likely to secure a decent individual income through employment and they have a lower employment rate than men in all Member States, with the gap particularly pronounced in some countries.

When women are employed, their average earnings are lower due to structural inequalities such as a higher prevalence of part-time work, unequal division of household work, gender employment segregation, bias and pay systems, the gender pay gap and feminisation of lower paid and less valued positions. Factors of inequality and increased risk of poverty are accumulated over a woman’s life – from the start of professional activity to retirement – and lead to increasing gender gaps in pay, pension and poverty.

This phenomenon has been described as ‘the feminisation of poverty’. This means that, from a life cycle perspective, women are a vulnerable group of the population in terms of exposure to poverty. “The feminisation of poverty should be viewed as the consequence of various structural factors including stereotypes, existing gender pay gaps, barriers caused by the lack of reconciliation between family life and work, the longer life expectancy of women and, in general, the various types of gender discrimination, which mostly affect women.”

Among women, specific groups are considered more vulnerable, and therefore more at risk of poverty and social exclusion than others. This is the case, for example, of women living alone, migrant women, elderly women and women with disabilities.

A range of interrelated factors therefore explains the greater risk of poverty and social exclusion experienced by women. These factors produce a set of persistent gender gaps hampering women’s equal participation in this field. The gaps include areas such as:

  • working poor
  • gender pay gap and pension gap
  • structural factors that increase the risk of poverty
  • family care burden/work–life balance
  • poverty and social exclusion among different target groups
  • poverty and violence against women.

Gender inequalities in the policy area - Main Issues

Existing gender equality policy objectives at EU and international level

Policy cycle in poverty

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Poverty and social inclusion and the integration of the gender dimensions into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle, click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into poverty and social exclusion policies. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in poverty and social inclusion


The key milestones of the EU poverty and social inclusion policy are presented below.

Current policy priorities at EU level

Today the main policy framework in the field of EU social protection is the Europe 2020 strategy and the open method of coordination for social protection and social inclusion (Social OMC). These aim to promote social cohesion and equality through adequate, accessible and financially sustainable social protection systems and social inclusion policies.

The EU provides a framework for national strategy development for social protection and social investment, as well as for coordinating policies between EU countries on issues relating to poverty and social exclusion: health care, long-term care and pensions.

The strategy also includes 7 ‘flagship initiatives’, providing a framework through which the EU and national authorities mutually reinforce their efforts in areas supporting the Europe 2020 priorities. Two of these flagships target inclusive growth and poverty reduction: the agenda for new skills and jobs and the European platform against poverty and social exclusion. In particular, the platform aims to:

  • ensure economic, social and territorial cohesion
  • guarantee respect for the fundamental rights of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion, enabling them to live in dignity and take an active part in society
  • mobilise support to help people integrate into the communities where they live, obtain training and help to find a job and have access to social benefits.

To provide Member States with social policy guidance to better address unemployment, poverty and social exclusion, in 2013, the European Commission adopted the Social Investment Package. The package implementation is supported by enhanced analysis and monitoring of Member States’ policies and social outcomes in the framework of the European semester, providing financial assistance and streamlining its governance and reporting. Reporting on the Social Investment Package includes the social objectives reflected in the annual growth survey 2014:

  • implementation by Member States of the active inclusion priorities
  • preserving access to adequate social protection benefits, services, health and long-term care
  • access to more personalised services (one-stop shop)
  • addressing the impact of gender pay and activity gaps on women’s pension entitlements
  • containing and reducing poverty
  • modernising pension systems.

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