Feminisation of Poverty and Empowerment of Women - an Indian Perspective & Experience Ms. Rashmi Bhat

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Townsville International Women’s Conference - AUSTRALIA

3 - 7 July 2002 ~ James Cook University “Poverty, Violence and Women’s Rights: ...Setting a Global Agenda” This international conference is for all who care passionately about improving women’s position in the world, who demand justice and full human rights for women everywhere and who believe that a feminist analysis is essential to defining a fairer globalised world.

Paper Presentation for the International Women's Conference at Townsville, Australia, by Ms. Rashmi Bhat, Faculty, Department of Women's Studies, N.M.K.R.V College for Women, Bangalore, and Ms. Jayalakshmi, Project Officer, Grama Vikas, Mulbagal, Kolar District, Karnataka. South India. July 3rd - 7th, 2002

Feminisation of Poverty and Empowerment of Women - An Indian Perspective & Experience I. Understanding Poverty:

Poverty has been an issue of vital concern in India since independence. The pace of poverty reduction in the past decades - despite comprehensive and mammoth schemes - has been slow. While achievements such as increased life expectancy need to be acknowledged, one cannot lose sight of the fact that the fight against poverty has not yet been a successful one. Today, the largest number of the global poor live in India - 40% of 1.3 billion poor worldwide. Although the relative number of poor people in India has increased from 200 million people in 1950 to 312 million in 1994 (36% of the Indian population)1 The proportion of population living in poverty and the trends in poverty in India are contested issues. Yet, there is a consensus amongst Government and other organisations that poverty continues to be a major problem confronting the country2 Conceptualising Poverty: There is a general consensus that the poor can be defined as those who are deprived of basic human needs required for their well being. But, there are different points of view on what exactly are these basic needs. The Indian Government equates poverty with the tangible dimensions of deprivation, i.e., lack of access to food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, water and basic education, and uses "food deprivation" in particular to identify the poor from the nonpoor3 (Planning Commission, 1979, 1993). However, The Human Development Report, 1997, brought out by the UNDP, questions such a narrow equation of poverty with material deprivation. It argues the need for broadening the definition of poverty to include deprivation in terms of creativity, freedom, dignity, self-esteem and the respect of others 1 2

Page V, Preface. Page 1.

(UNDP, 1997). Others, like Chambers (1998), draw attention to a few additional intangible dimensions of deprivation: vulnerability, powerlessness and isolation4 A. Failures Leading to Poverty:

Endowment Failures - lack of/inadequate productive assets - lack of control over physical labour power - lack of/low status membership in household and community - lack of citizenship in the residing country - low status of country vis-à-vis global bodies

Production Failures - poor state of physical environment - lack of/inadequate skills and capacities - lack of/inadequate access to inputs (credit, materials)


Exchange Failures - low market prices for goods produced, and high for basic needs - low employment and unjust wages - weak entitlements vis-à-vis household/community - weak claims vis-à-vis the Nation-State and Global Institutions

Source: Adapted from Murthy and Rao (1997), pp. 19 The main cause of poverty are the shortfalls in the ownership entitlements, endowments, production and exchange options of the poor and different poverty groups (ref. above

Vulnerability is manifested in the uncertainties surrounding survival strategies of the poor, their lack of capacity to cope with crisis as well as the seasonal dimensions of poverty. Powerlessness is reflected in their compulsion to rely on relationships of exploitation, whether based on caste, class, gender or ethnicity,...
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