Gender and Poverty

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United Nations Development Programme

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AND POVERTY ELIMINATION DIVISION

WP 5 GENDER AND POVERTY*
Nilüfer Cagatay
May 1998

WORKING PAPER SERIES

*The responsibility for opinions in these articles, studies and other contributions in this series rests solely with their authors, and publication does not constitute an endorsement by the United Nations Development Programme or the institutions of the United Nations system.

Table Of Contents
Introduction I. II. Women And Poverty: Are Women Poorer? From Women and Poverty to Gender and Poverty A. Engendering Poverty Analysis B. New Conceptualizations of Poverty C. From Consumption/Income Poverty to Human Poverty D. Are Women Poorer?: Revisiting the Question from a Human Poverty Perspective E. Assessing Gender Differences in Poverty: Quantitative versus Qualitative Approaches F. Do Gender Inequalities Increase Overall Poverty? III. What Is To Be Done? What Is Being Done?

A. Gender Mainstreaming at UNDP B. Engendering Anti-Poverty Projects and Programmes

Figures Figure 1: A Pyramid of Poverty Concepts Boxes Box 1: Chile: Targeting Female Headship for Combating Poverty Box 2: Gender and Poverty in Guinea: Human Poverty versus Consumption Poverty and Participatory Approach to Poverty Assessment Box 3: South Asia Poverty Alleviation Program (SAPAP): The Case of India Social Mobilization through Self-Help Groups

1

“The causes and outcomes of poverty are heavily engendered and yet traditional conceptualizations consistently fail to delineate poverty’s gender dimension, resulting in policies and programmes which fail to improve the lives of poor women and their families.” Lourdes Beneria and Savitri Bisnath (1997) Introduction The relationship between gender and poverty is a complex and controversial topic that is now being debated more than ever before. Although much policymaking has been informed by the idea of feminization of poverty, the precise nature of the nexus between gender and poverty needs to be better understood and operationalized in policymaking. The difficulty originates from the different shapes and forms gender inequalities and poverty take depending on the economic, social and ideological context. Yet another difficulty involves the scarcity of gender disaggregated data for a number of countries. For the last three decades, many women’s advocates have been arguing that women are poorer than men. The most common empirical expression of this idea is the concept of “feminization of poverty.” 1 This idea has become popular both in shaping analyses of poverty and poverty alleviation strategies. Thus, targeting women has become one vehicle for gender-sensitive poverty alleviation. Poor women have become the explicit focus of policymaking, for example, in the areas of microcredit programmes and income generation activities.2 However, the universal validity of the “feminization of poverty” is being empirically challenged. Although the idea that there are gender differences in experiences of poverty is not abandoned, a more nuanced and complex analysis of poverty and gender inequalities is emerging. This, in turn, is giving rise to a more gender-aware approach to poverty elimination strategies. In what is to follow, we discuss first the earlier approach to “women and poverty,” which has focused mostly on female-headed households (FHHs). Next we address the various new conceptualizations of poverty and their relevance for understanding the linkages between gender and poverty. We conclude with a discussion of policy implications and examples of gender-aware anti-poverty programmes.

1

For example, the idea of “feminization of poverty” informs one of the key policy goals of the Beijing Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW). 2 Such strategies include the examples of credit schemes for women or income generation activities for women that try to overcome gender biases in credit and other markets by...
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