It has been proven that women suffer the most from the sharp increase in prices. When already vulnerable population groups are forced to choose between heating and eating, politics must act. High energy costs in particular exacerbate existing inequalities between men and women. This is why the EU Parliament has taken up this issue on this year's International Women's Day.
Once a year, on the occasion of International Women's Day, special attention is paid to gender-specific disadvantages in all areas of life. The EU Parliament is no exception: this year's meeting of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) focused on the impact of energy poverty on women. High-level experts discussed the problem and possible solutions with national parliamentarians. They concluded that already existing inequalities have been worsened by the successive crises of recent years - pandemic, war in Ukraine, inflation. Dramatic increases in the cost of living aggravate the already strained economic situation of women worldwide and threaten to slow or halt progress on gender equality.
Impact of inflation on women
Although the global inflation crisis affects everyone, women are disproportionately affected by rising prices. This is due, among other things, to the fact that they more often work part-time or in precarious jobs, thus earning lower incomes and/or performing unpaid care work. According to the Women’s Budget Group the fact that women have less savings and assets and higher debt burdens also plays a role. In addition, the prices of consumer goods for women have increased much faster than those for men: in Great Britain, for example, women’s shoe prices increased by 75 % in 2021, while those for men only increased by 14 %.
The increased prices in the energy sector are particularly noticeable: together with poorly insulated or even non-insulated houses and flats as well as inefficient household appliances with high electricity consumption, they are the main reasons for energy poverty. "I have heard of single mothers asking their children to do their homework in public libraries until the end of opening hours because it is too expensive to turn on lights and heating at home", reported Carlien Scheele, Director of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), in the EU Parliament.
Households with children headed by a single adult are the most affected by rising energy prices. According to Eurostat data from 2021, 83% of all single-parent households are headed by women. A recent Eurofound study from 2022 now provides concrete figures on their problem situation: among single mothers in the EU, 44% said they expected difficulties in paying energy bills in the next 3 months, compared to only 26% of single men.
Work Climate Index confirms results at national level
The current Austrian Work Climate Index shows the great concern of women in Austria: Almost 80% of the female respondents compared to 71% of the male respondents stated that they pay more attention than usual to energy-saving measures in the household in view of the current wave of price increases. 38% of women consciously buy less food, compared to only 29% of men. "It is unacceptable that women are still massively disadvantaged in the world of work and are now particularly suffering from the price increases", says Andreas Stangl, President of AK Upper Austria.
National and Union-wide measures to reduce energy poverty
Laurence Gillois, Director of UN Women, sees the Social Climate Fund, proposed by the EU Commission, as a great opportunity. An EU Parliament resolution on women’s poverty from July 2022 also calls for targeted policy measures, especially for single parents. Ana Margarida Luís De Sousa, a researcher in civil, mechanical and petroleum engineering at the University of Lisbon, stressed the importance of taking women into account when designing energy infrastructure, as they have different energy needs than men. However, solutions should in no way exacerbate existing problems, warned Carlien Scheele: "For example, closing kindergartens earlier to save energy shifts the issue to the individual households and as a result makes it even more difficult for women to be in paid employment."