The “feminization of poverty” is the concept of social and economic factors that keep women disproportionately poor globally. It touches on how women experience poverty in more severe forms than men. It also looks into how poverty is on the rise among women.
Gender inequality is the most common form of inequality in the world, and as a result, it is one of the biggest barriers to alleviating poverty. The following are some important facts to know about the feminization of poverty in the world.
5 Facts About the Feminization of Poverty
- Millions of Women Live Below the Poverty Line: Estimates from U.N. Women reported that 388 million women and girls around the world would be living in poverty in 2022. For comparison, the study reported the number of men and boys in the same category as 372 million. It also stated the potential for the number to reach 446 million in a “high-damage” scenario.
- Women of Color are the Most Affected: Of the number of women living in poverty, 345 million are from Asia and Africa. This means the feminization of poverty spans across the axes of intersectionality such as race and ethnicity. But this does not stop at the global south, as women of nearly all races and ethnicities are more likely to face poverty than their white counterparts. In the U.S., 91.9% of women living in poverty are black, Asian, Hispanic, Alaska native or other races, while only 9% are white.
- Violence Keeps Women and Girls Poor: Women who have abusive partners or family members may be less likely to find work due to potential control issues. If they are able to find work, they may miss days and opportunities as a result of injury. For instance, in the MENA region, 35% of women experience domestic violence, resulting in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) accounting for a loss of 3.7% in the GDP, as women are also prevented from participating in labor. Women that are unable to work and earn a living have a harder time escaping their situation. Consequently, they continue to live below the poverty line.
- Women are More Likely to Get Low-Income Jobs: In the U.K. alone, a fifth of women are working jobs that are below the real living wage. This means that 2.9 million women are living below the living wage. In comparison, only 1.9 million men work low-paying jobs that place them below the living wage. Most recent estimates show that globally, women earn 16% less on average than their male counterparts. In Australia and New Zealand, the gender pay gap stands at 19.3%, and in India, it is 14.4%.
- Childbirth Impacts Career Progress: Less than one in five women in the U.K. return to full-time work within the first three years after childbirth, and 17% of women leave work completely after having children, compared to only 4% of men. This disparity in gender responsibilities results from various factors, such as poor maternal leave policies and the disproportionate burden of caretaking duties on mothers. This situation highlights how gender inequality affects a woman’s earning potential and ability to lift herself out of poverty.
Ongoing Efforts and Potential Solutions
Fighting gender inequality plays a significant role in ending poverty. U.N. Women, which emerged in July 2010, has a project dedicated to supporting women worldwide, training them to become entrepreneurs and start small businesses. UN Women has four strategic priorities that include helping women to participate in and benefit from governance systems, secure income and exercise economic autonomy. Its aim is to free women and girls from all forms of violence and enable them to contribute to building a sustainable world.
Other organizations like ActionAid and Forgotten Women are committed to delivering safe aid to help women out of poverty and crisis situations through training and awareness initiatives. In 2021, ActionAid spent £31.9 million on humanitarian and development programs globally.
There is still much work to do in the fight against female poverty. Nonetheless, several organizations are already working to provide women with the support and opportunities that they need to succeed. Supporting the ongoing efforts of active organizations, through awareness and community work, can potentially play a vital role in putting an end to the feminization of poverty.
– Safa Ali