The Feminization of Poverty: Why It Matters


SEATTLE — Globally, according to UNIFEM, a significant proportion of the poverty burden is felt by women in developing countries. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Agenda highlights the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. According to a U.N. estimate, 70 percent of the 1.5 billion individuals living on $1 a day are women.

A term conceptualized in the 1970s that has sparked a lot of controversy in recent years, the concept of the feminization of poverty remains a key facet that is crucial to the empowerment of women, eliminating gender inequality, and in turn, alleviating global poverty in the long run. For instance, more than 60 percent of individuals fleeing war and persecution are women and girls.

Moreover, despite the fact that more than two-thirds of the developing and developed world has made major progress in this key realm, the feminization of poverty still remains a deeply entrenched issue in the modern context.

Furthermore, the term “Femenomics” is also linked to the feminization of poverty and expresses the social and economic inequities that impact women and girls of working age. However, even once they enter and establish themselves in the labor market, women often face the threat of job losses, lower wages and various forms of human rights violations.

Over the years, the globalization phenomenon and major demographic changes have aggravated social inequalities like the gender wage gap and income disparities. Common in both rural and urban areas, pre-existing gender-based discrimination, biases and violence are often the main sources of the feminization of poverty.

Owing to their gender, opportunities for women are often limited in many ways because of the pre-existing deficiencies in education, finance and healthcare in poorer nations. Women’s bargaining power is also limited, as they have less access to credit and financial institutions.

Conservative interpretations of religion can also result in a number of social and cultural impediments that confine women in many ways, including the freedom to vote, drive and work as well as choosing their spouse or their form of dress.

As labor participation is already impacted by a major gender imbalance, income disparities in the economy tend to be exacerbated. Women are also often employed by the informal sector, where they are further crippled by the low wages, a lack of confidence, diversity and other impediments. Oxfam America also reports that a majority of women in single households are often unable to sufficiently cater to the needs of their families.

To counter the feminization of poverty, targeting women specifically can be especially beneficial. Though it remains an astronomical task and is currently set to take 217 years to achieve, according to the World Economic Forum, bridging the gender gap is the foundation for improving the opportunities available to women.

Moreover, improving social security nets that cater to women’s interests can help ameliorate the problem to a certain degree. For instance, the World Bank’s existing Social Protection and Labor Strategy (2012-2022) is a major framework to boost the empowerment of women and girls. The strategy involves expanding the coverage and resilience of pre-existing programs. The Rapid Social Response, also undertaken by the World Bank, is galvanizing social protection schemes and systems in many low-income countries.

Overall, the feminization of poverty is a major indicator of how global poverty and gender equality are related. It remains imperative to work at the grassroots level so that a larger number of vulnerable women and girls are reached around the world.

– Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr


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