Tackling gender inequality after retirement

21 February 2024

As part of the Belgian presidency of the European Union, ministers David Clarinval and Karine Lalieux, in collaboration with Secretary of State Marie-Colline Leroy, held a high-level conference on 8 February to promote an exchange of views between multidisciplinary panels on possible innovative and effective multidisciplinary solutions to tackle the gender pension gap at national and EU level, as well as the importance of identifying the causes of the gender pension gap, exchanging good practices in this field and questioning the design of pension systems.

Gender inequality in figures

In 2019, the gender gap in pensions between men and women reached 29.5% on average within the European Union, with the largest reaching up to 44%. Caused by various labour market inequalities, this leads to a higher poverty risk for retired women.

The 15th principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights emphasises equitable pension rights for women and men: “Workers and the self-employed in retirement have the right to a pension commensurate to their contributions and ensuring an adequate income. Women and men shall have equal opportunities to acquire pension rights. Everyone in old age has the right to resources that ensure living in dignity.”

The Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union aspires to further reflect those elements in the La Hulpe interinstitutional Declaration on the Future of Social Europe which aims to reconfirm our commitment to the European Pillar of Social Rights and to strengthen our commitment to further implement its principles.

Solutions at the national and EU levels

According to the Belgian presidency of the EU Council, the European Union and its member states can address the gender pension gap at their level by focusing on the roots of the gap, namely gender inequality in the labour market, such as the gender pay gap, and on the design of pension systems.

Belgium wished to highlight its recent pension reform, which has improved the adequacy of pensions for many women with limited labour market participation. The reform also puts special emphasis on self-employed careers, as we know that women tend to have shorter careers. The latest reform has addressed this by making the conditions for access to the minimum pension more flexible for assisting spouses of self-employed.

Minister Clarinval, Belgian Minister for the Middle Classes and the Self-Employed, insisted on this point: "The fight against gender inequality, with a view to a more egalitarian European society, must continue. We must work even harder to reduce the gender pension gap, in particular by stepping up the fight against gender inequalities in the labour market. After all, work makes it possible to guarantee fair pensions that reflect each individual's career. The gender pension gap obviously affects all women, including those who are self-employed. In Belgium, the particular case of assisting spouses of the self-employed, most of whom are women, is representative. In fact, many assisting spouses did not have access to the minimum pension because they had to wait until later to acquire pension rights. During this legislature, I remedied this by facilitating access to the minimum pension for assisting spouses under certain conditions. This was an important step forward, both for their social status and for the recognition of their work.”

Current and future monitoring at the EU & member states level

According to the Belgian presidency of the Council of the EU, both the gender gap in pensions and the gender gap in pension coverage are important indicators that measure a dimension not covered by other indicators. It is therefore important that both Eurostat and the Pension Adequacy Report monitor them regularly.

The Belgian presidency of the EU Council proposes that the gender pension gap and the gender coverage gap be monitored and analysed in the triannual Pension Adequacy Report of the Social Protection Committee.

At the end of the day, Minister Karine Lalieux, Belgian Minister for Pensions and Social Integration, stressed that: "The Belgian presidency also wished to highlight the importance of the European dimension in this issue, while respecting the exclusive competence of the member states in pension policies. We all share common values and the fight against inequalities between women and men is in the DNA of European integration. Since there is strength in numbers, the Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union has focused this conference on the exchange of good practices in this field between member states, like for instance minimum schemes, parental leave, measures to combat gender segregation in the labour market and the joint reflection on possible actions at European level.”

She also called for an improvement in the issue of relevant indicators, in particular by proposing that "this issue be included in the 2024-2025 work programme of the Indicators Sub-Group of the Social Protection Committee. We would also like to promote the use of administrative data to complement already existing studies. This would allow each country to have a more accurate picture of these inequalities. Finally, we would like the chapter on the gender pension gap to be structurally integrated into the Social Protection Committee's report on the adequacy of pensions.”

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