In simple words, poverty is understood as not having the sufficient amount of wealth and resources to satisfy the basic needs of an individual or a family. The people are said to be poverty stricken when they lack the proper access to resources, productive assets and income, leading to a situation of material deprivation. The concept of the poverty line as per government standards describes the amount of money needed for a person to satisfy the basic necessities of life. On the other hand, gender is a societal construction and gender inequalities deal with the experiences of women in different phases of their lives and question the discrimination done towards women in a gendered society. Almost every societal phenomenon is related to gender but connecting poverty with gender has been a complicated and controversial matter.
The relationship between poverty and gender depends on inequalities based on economic, social and ideological concept. This condition has been described while discussing the “feminization of poverty”.
Feminization of Poverty
The concept of feminization of poverty poses the question, whether women are poorer than men. The term was used back in the 1970s but has gained importance since the past two decades to study the gendered basis of economic differences. It was seen that in many societies the conditions of women were inadequate in terms of capabilities as compared to men. The distribution and access to resources within the domestic sphere is unequal on the parts of girls and women. Such issues remained largely unrecognized in the global context. While understanding poverty from the gender outlook, the factors such as exploitation of fundamental rights, health, education, property, food, representation, etc should be considered along with the lack or deprivation of wealth. The patriarchal nature of society makes it difficult for them to transform their capabilities into productive income or well-being.
The gender disparities in terms of distribution of income, availability of productive inputs such as credit, right and command over property resources, control over earnings, etc contribute to the poor economic status of women in the society as a whole. The gender biasness in labour markets resulting in the negligence and social exclusion of women exposes them to extreme vulnerabilities leading to their chronic poverty. (Tanusree Chakraborty, 2014). The underprivileged section often had to compromise their choices while struggling to overcome their economic deprivation. But women had to make more compromises because their economic choices are socially more restricted. The work pressure is more because women had to go through the unpaid domestic labour within the household along with the work burden of formal or informal sectors. Those who aren’t employed outside the household had to go through the unrecognized and non-salaried form of domestic work their entire life. It was found that women spend around 2.5 times more on unpaid care and domestic work as compared to men. ( ILO, World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends for women 2017 (Geneva, 2017),UN WOMEN). This indicates the fact that poor women tend to suffer more. This is how gender relations and inequalities make men and women encounter poverty differently.
Gender disparity and overall poverty
Gender inequality significantly contributes to hunger and poverty as an analysis by Bread for the World Institute suggests. According to Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute women are paid less for the same as compared to men. They have to perform unpaid duties of household chores, cooking and have to act as primary caregivers in the families. Women tend to invest the additional income on the children’s health and education than their male counterparts. So this situation is common in the global context. This stark difference implies that gender inequalities largely act as contributing factors to gender based poverty and such a situation continues to exist through generations.
The problems of child marriage of girls, denying the right to education to girls, restricting employment opportunities, control of women’s sexuality, fertility, mobility, gender pay gaps and all forms of discrimination against women nurture the gendered issues of poverty.
Gender equality and poverty alleviation
Gender equality can go a long way in reducing the rates of deprivation and poverty. It was seen that developing countries with higher gender equality are likely to have lower poverty rates ((Tanusree Chakraborty, 2014). Sierra Leona, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali are the four countries which ranked lowest in the Gender Development Index and also found to be lowest in the Human Poverty Index (HPI). On the contrary, out of four developing countries ranking highest in the HPI, three countries – Costa Rica, Singapore and Trinidad and Tobago – also rank among the highest in GDI (UNDP 1997, p.39).