WOMEN'S NETWORK, EUROPE
Via del Serraglio, 10 - 06073 Corciano - PG - Italy
Tel./Fax: (+39) 075 506 8006
by Diana Robbins,
social policy researcher, London
You cannot look in any one place for answers to these questions. But there are at least three areas of European policy development which provide some clues.
In its work on poverty and social exclusion between 1986 and 1994, the Commission moved away from a simple concept of poverty towards the idea of a kind of complex network of disadvantages which they called social exclusion. The Commission ‘Observatory’ on social exclusion investigated the social rights from which people might be excluded - rights to work, to shelter, to good health among others. They did not focus on ‘vulnerable groups’, but did look at inequalities based on gender, age, disability and so on.
Meanwhile, another Commission Observatory was working on the situation of older people. This Observatory identified five key issues in their last Annual report: rising living standards among the younger elderly; the persistence of poverty among a minority - especially women; growth in inequalities between pensioners (including gender inequalities); new developments in pensions policy; increasing numbers of older people living alone; and poor housing conditions for a significant minority.
Finally, the Commission’s Equal Opportunities Programme, which is still in force, emphasizes mainstreaming as the one overriding principle which will bring about greater gender equality. Much of the work of the programme has been devoted to the rights of women in employment and/or decision-making roles, and both the feminization of poverty and the role of older women have been largely ignored. But gender equality has achieved a much higher profile in all the work of the Commission as a result of this and earlier Programmes, and the Commission has made it clear that it wants this reflected in any new social exclusion initiative.
So have our initial questions been answered? Sadly, no. In all these initiatives the needs and rights of older women have been considered only at the margins, and then often only in terms of ‘problems’. But now - as a new social exclusion policy is being developed - now is the time to present to European policy-makers a clear, strong programme for empowering the older women of Europe, and moving them from the margins to the mainstream.
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