Olivier De Schutter recently conducted a two-month mission to the European Union, where women are more likely to fall into poverty than men, a situation that has further deteriorated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

UN News spoke to Mr De Schutter ahead of International Women’s Day marked annually on 8 March.

Why are women more likely to be affected by poverty than men in the EU? 
Women are disproportionately more at risk of poverty compared to men (22.3 percent compared to 20.4 percent in the EU).

What is perhaps even more striking is that for older women, particularly having reached pension age, the gaps are significantly higher (averaging 37.2 percent across the EU).

What has been the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on women? 
Unfortunately, I am afraid the pandemic shall mean a significant step backward in terms of gender equality. The crisis will probably lead to many more women than men having to renounce full-time jobs.

Moreover, the closure of schools has increased the burden on women, who take care of children more than men.

However, there has also been a growing awareness that the essential functions they fulfill in the healthcare sector and care-economy are under-estimated.

What should be done to combat poverty for everyone? 
The Covid-19 crisis, for all the human suffering it inflicts, is an opportunity to reopen the debate as to which kind of society we want.

We need to build a society that has an inclusive economy that gives each individual a fair chance to make a decent living.

That means fighting discrimination against people in poverty, creating more job opportunities for people with low levels of qualifications, and investing in people’s education and life-long training to ensure all people have a chance to compete.

It goes far beyond the usual idea that we need just to create wealth and redistribute it afterward.

Read the full interview about economic independence with Olivier De Schutter at Eco-Business.