Blog: International Women's Day 2024: Time for action, not talk

International Women’s Day (IWD) is rightly taken as a day to highlight women’s achievements and the strides being made towards greater gender equality.

But it can – and should – also be used to shine a spotlight on the dangers women still face in society, such as the higher risk of rape and relationship abuse.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2022 found 1.7 million women experienced domestic abuse in the last year, with the victim being female in 74.1 per cent of domestic abuse-related crimes.

It also found that between the year ending March 2019 and the year ending March 2021, 72.1 per cent of victims of domestic homicide were female, compared with 12.3 per cent of victims of non-domestic homicide.

Meanwhile, Rape Crisis England and Wales states that 798,000 women are raped or sexually assaulted every year – equating to one in 30 women.

Overall, it says that one in four women, or 6.54 million women in total, have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult. One in two rapes against women are carried out by their partner or ex-partner.

What has this got to do with the pensions industry? Well often, these terrible situations remain women’s reality because of a lack of financial freedom.

I’ve seen many times the different ways financial constraints play a fundamental role in women’s inability to leave unhappy situations, or unable to achieve their goals.

From it being uneconomic for both parents to carry on working due to the monumental cost of childcare, with the assumption that ‘of course’ it is the woman who has to give up her work, her career, her financial freedom, as it would be emasculating for the man to do so, to single mothers fearful to ask for what is rightfully owed to them in child support, for fear of the father ‘kicking off’.

From the woman unable to leave an abusive relationship due to not being able to afford her own place to live, to those that do split up, the woman being more likely to find that they live later life in greater poverty.

I was lucky to have the importance of financial freedom and of a good education drummed into me as a child, to never be trapped into an unhappy situation with a man due to a lack of money.

It meant the thought of a lack of financial freedom was forefront in my mind when, as a teenager, my controlling then-boyfriend wanted me to drop out of university, to no longer work, and be ‘looked after’ by him. It gave me the strength to say no and not become trapped.

And since then, becoming a financial journalist opened my eyes to money matters of which I previously had no awareness, of what I now know are the ‘basics’ – from pensions, of course, to credit scores, mortgages, the impact of inflation and the benefits of compound interest – knowledge of which has materially improved my life.

But not all – or many – have the privilege of receiving a financial education as part of their job. We know that the nation’s financial literacy is low. This is an urgent problem.

Financial education gives people the awareness and skills to make the most of, and ideally, improve their finances, which in turn can enable them to better their lives.

Once a woman reaches retirement, the financial education, constraints and freedoms she received over her life is reflected in the size of her pension pot.

But for too many, it makes for a grim image.

According to recent stats from Stowe Family Law, in around half of couples, 90 per cent of the pension wealth is held by one partner, usually the husband, leaving women at a financial disadvantage and increased risk of poverty in retirement if the marriage ends.

It also found that only 12 per cent of financial orders on divorce contain a pension sharing order, and it remains all-too-common for parties, usually the wife, to ignore claims against their spouse’s pension or forego claims due to a desire to retain the family home.

Meanwhile, it adds that the average disparity between men and women’s pension assets is 56 per cent.

It is therefore unsurprising that Age UK’s June 2023 research found that 19 per cent of pensioner women are living in poverty, compared to 16 per cent of pensioner men.

Single female pensioners fare even worse, with 26 per cent living in poverty, compared to 21 per cent of single pensioner men and 14 per cent of pensioners in couples.

The pensions industry has made great efforts to highlight this gender pensions gap in recent years, but it would be wrong to think that’s all it can do.

Whist it alone cannot overturn the broader societal issues, such as career breaks to raise children, which result in a smaller pension pot for women, the sector is in a position to play a vital role in improving financial education in the UK.

In recognition of this, we at Pensions Age are spending the year highlighting the importance of financial education and the role of the pensions industry in improving financial literacy, in each issue of the magazine.

So, this IWD, please do not just use today as a marketing opportunity, or as just that one day of the year you showcase how you feel the gender pensions pay gap is ‘bad’.

Instead of talk, IWD should be one of many days of action, in which the industry plays its part in improving financial education and ultimately improving the lives of all, especially women.

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