Posts

Single Motherhood in South Africa
Poverty in South Africa disproportionately affects women, a phenomenon people know as the feminization of poverty. Despite efforts by the South African government to combat severe female poverty and disadvantage, the feminization of South African poverty remains an important issue today. Single motherhood in South Africa is a huge problem because it puts a severe psychological and financial strain on both mothers and children. As of 2015, more than half of the South African population was living under the official poverty line, and homes headed by black African women are at greatest risk of impoverishment.

Despite government efforts to alleviate race-and-gender-skewed poverty with state-sponsored health care, free housing programs and subsidized basic services like water and electricity, poverty in South Africa remains overwhelmingly black and female. Half of South African children grow up in fatherless households, and the number of single mother households in the country has grown over the past several decades. Women must increasingly raise and support children alone, which increases a family’s risk of living under the poverty line.

Single-Mother Households and Poverty

The link between single-mother households and poverty is undeniable, impacting even the world’s most affluent nations. In Europe, single-mother households generally have more than double the poverty rate of two-parent households. Single-parent households are bound to bring in less money than married couples because they only have one source of income. As a result, children living in single-parent homes are three times as likely to be poor as children living with married parents.

South African women earn an average of 28 percent less than men, partly accounting for the disproportionate poverty of female-led households. Women also have a harder time finding jobs than men; almost 30 percent of working-age women are unemployed, compared to 25.2 percent of men. Women are also more likely to work in the informal, unregulated sector or do unpaid work. Other vulnerabilities, like domestic abuse, sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy and HIV prevent South African women from supporting themselves and their families.

There are psychological consequences for children in fatherless households as well as financial strains. Research has found that boys who grow up with absent fathers are more likely to display aggression and other hyper-masculine behaviors, which increases their risk for unhealthy relationships, crime and addiction. Fatherless girls are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, experience an unwanted pregnancy or find themselves in an abusive relationship. These consequences propagate the cycle of fatherless homes.

Why is Single Motherhood in South Africa Common?

For almost 50 years, South Africa’s white-supremacist government crystalized systematic inequality on the basis of race through the system of Apartheid. Now, only 25 years into liberation, the South African people still feel these legacies deeply. One of the main contributing factors is the urban-rural divide. Apartheid relegated black South Africans were often in rural homelands far from metropolitan centers and, subsequently, jobs. Thousands of black men had to migrate to cities to find work. They lived in male-only hostels or townships, making low wages and sending money back to their families, who could not leave the homelands to join them.

Some argue that the destruction of the black family structure by the Apartheid regime contributed to patterns of male family-abandonment and neglect. This phenomenon may have had a hand in the recent increase in single-mother households.

Additionally, the vast gap in access to good education, well-paying jobs and respect in society created socio-economic inequalities in South Africa. Black South Africans remain poorly educated, and cyclical, persistent poverty traps many of them, leaving them unable to pull themselves out. In addition, 13 percent of all pregnancies in the country are teen pregnancies, which prevent mothers from finishing school and focusing on a career, resulting in continuous poverty.

The South African government recognizes the scope and seriousness of poverty in single-mother households and has adopted the National Development Plan: Vision 2030 to raise living standards, provide public services and reduce severe poverty and inequality. The policy outlines a plan to invest in education, health services, public transport, housing and social security, as well as welfare policies directed specifically at women and children, like a national nutrition program for pregnant women and a plan to increase women’s enrollment in schools, especially in rural areas. Single motherhood in South Africa is a dangerous phenomenon, and in order to alleviate this problem, women need better access to education, resources and job opportunities.

– Nicollet Laframboise
Photo: Flickr

women in poverty
Economic inequality is an issue that has existed for years around the world, especially in developing countries. Sometimes dubbed “global capitalism,” this inequality can be argued to have, in turn, created social classes that have ultimately influenced women in poverty around the world.

Such women often find themselves in situations of informalization, flexibilization and feminization as capitalism causes a high discrepancy between earning wages and living affordability in certain countries. Developed countries could arguably do more to help those in developing countries so that women in poverty do not find themselves relying on the informal sphere to survive and make a living.

What is Informalization?

Any economic activity that isn’t regulated, legal or outside of the formal sphere is considered work in the informal economy. This work usually isn’t ideal as it is not monitored, regulated or taxed by the government; it is considered a labor activity lacking authority where cash is barely exchanged. This work ranges from household child- and elder-care, to domestic labor and community projects, which are often seen as examples of “invisible” informal work.

Interestingly, it can be irregular activities where payment is expected that legal regulation is difficult to enforce. These activities can range from street vending, petty trade, home-based industries, sex work, drug dealing and arms trade — most of which are seen as illegal informal work. Since it’s usually dangerous or precarious work, these scenarios lack major benefits to the employee other than an income. Women working in this sphere lack protection, labor laws or even social benefits. In fact, they often work in unsafe working conditions with risk of sexual harassment.

This type of work environment also has long-term effects on women — if workers don’t have pensions globally, many find themselves in situations of poverty in their old-age as well; in other words, this system creates a never-ending cycle for women in poverty. In fact, “today researchers estimate that informal activities constitute more than one-half of all economic outputs, and equal 75 percent of the GDP of some countries.” According to U.N. Women, 95 percent of women in South Asia, 89 percent of Sub Saharan Africa and 59 percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean work in the informal sphere.

How Does Informalization Lead to Flexibilization and Feminization?

Flexibilization and feminization are sources of inequality that derive from informalization. Flexibilization is usually non-permanent or part-time work that ends up feminizing the workforce. People in these situations tend to be women, which is where feminization comes into play.

These minimum wage jobs require docile but reliable workers who are available for part-time/temporary work and willing to labor for low wages. Although women generally aren’t most of these qualifications, gender stereotypes depict women as perfect candidates for these informal jobs, especially in developing countries.

How Can the Women in Poverty be Alleviated From These Situations?

When women in poverty aren’t getting paid enough for their labor, they aren’t able to support themselves and their families. Consequently, these women then need to get second jobs or find themselves in situations of informalization, flexibilization and feminization. Thankfully, many are finding ways to help women out of these jobs through news outlets, organizations or simply word of mouth.

Often, developed countries are viewed as not doing enough to help developing countries. Increases in the wealth gap lead to an increase of women in these precarious jobs. Therefore, organizations like the U.N. Women, Me to We, The Borgen Project and numerous others try to address this inequality and help women around the world.

U.N. Women started a project towards this goal that trains women and families to become entrepreneurs by creating their own businesses. This is an example of just one organization and project working towards improving the lives of women in poverty working in the informal sphere.

– Negin Nia
Photo: Flickr

BOMA Project

According to the U.N., the majority of people living in extreme poverty are women. This unfortunate reality is commonly referred to as the “Feminization of Poverty.” Lack of resources, education and income for women are among the various reasons this phenomenon exists. However, organizations like The BOMA Project are fighting to end this gender disparity among the world’s poor by empowering women in poverty.

The BOMA Project is a U.S. non-profit organization as well as a Kenyan NGO. The organization was recently chosen to receive a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Notably, the organization seeks to help impoverished women in drought-prone areas. The BOMA Project is currently operating in two Kenyan counties: Marsabit and Samburu. Both of these areas suffer from arid climates that make it difficult for their residents to thrive.

The BOMA Project’s two-year program is known as the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP). This program empowers and educates women to sustain small businesses.

The organization states that REAP, “replaces aid with sustainable income and helps women ‘graduate’ from extreme poverty by giving them the tools they need to start small businesses in their communities.”

REAP is accomplished through five major phases:

  1. Targeting the most vulnerable women within communities using a wealth ranking system.
  2. Assigning village mentors who assist in writing business plans as well as visit monthly over the two-year period.
  3. Providing two installments of grants to help women acquire the necessary resources to start their businesses.
  4. Training women how to run their businesses successfully.
  5. Forming savings associations comprised of 3 to 4 other BOMA businesses.

The BOMA Project also teaches women how to keep track of daily budgets, be secure during unexpected shocks and save for future purchases. This all-encompassing system has been the foundation of the organization’s success since its beginnings in 2009.

Since then, 9,432 women have enrolled in the program. Of the women who have already completed their two-year training, 93 percent are no longer living in extreme poverty (according to the organization’s criteria) and 98 percent now have savings.

While these numbers are promising, The BOMA Project is aiming to expand its reach, helping 100,000 women and children by 2018 and 1 million by 2021.

Saroja Koneru

Photo: Flickr