Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Feminization and Poverty by Prof. Vibhuti Patel

Subject:Women Studies/Gender Studies Paper: Women and economics
The phrase “feminization of poverty" is contested and open to a variety of interpretation. However, it was actually coined by an American researcher , Diana Pearce in 1978 when through her research she discovered the large number of women who were impacted by poverty, not only in her country but in fact all over the world. Thus the idea has its genesis in the 1970s. It was popularized at the start of the 1990s, not least in research by United Nation agencies. A 1992 UN report found that “the number of rural women living in poverty in the developing countries has increased by almost 50% over the past 20 years to an awesome 565 million -- 374 million of them in Asia, and 129 million in Sub-Saharan Africa. The concept has various meanings, some of which are not entirely consistent with its implicit notion of change. UNIFEM describes it as "the burden of poverty borne by women, especially in developing countries".[2] ascribing the cause to the lack of capacity building of women internationally. The United Nations Development Programme, as does much of literature on the subject, defines ‘feminization of poverty’ as a condition wherein the change in poverty levels is biased against women or female-headed households. In other words, it is the rise in difference in poverty levels between female and male poverty, or between female-headed and male-headed households. Since feminization implies change, feminization of poverty does not simply mean higher poverty among women or female-headed households. To be clear, it is important to note that feminization is a process, whereas ‘higher poverty level’ is a state; and that feminization of poverty is a relative concept based on a comparison between poverty among men and women.

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Comment by Prof. Vibhuti Patel on May 21, 2018 at 20:15

Poverty and gender inequality have tended to use the idea of ‘feminization of poverty’ to portray the differences between male and female poverty. This approach has tended to overestimate female poverty through the view that female-headed households defined in whichever manner are poorer than other households. However , this des not give the correct picture since generalization of such a trend in poverty across the globe is subject to doubt based on the particular definition of the term (Sen 2008). A single-minded focus on female-headed households narrows which households we focus on and how we understand what goes on within them.
Nevertheless, feminization of poverty has become a growing concern globally. UNDP states that 70 percent of the poor across the world are women. According to the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995, “More than one billion people in the world today, the great majority of whom are women, live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, mostly in the developing countries (UNDP).

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