Practice Question – Write Short Note on Feminization of poverty. (UPSC 2015) 

Approach – Introduction, Define Feminization of poverty, List different dimensions, causes and remedies, Give examples, Conclusion. 



The feminization of poverty is a change in the levels of poverty biased against women or female headed households. More specifically, it is an increase in the difference in the levels of poverty among women and men or among female versus male and couple headed households. It can also mean an increase of the role that gender inequalities have as a determinant of poverty, which would characterize a feminization of the causes of poverty. According to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (2000), “women are the world’s poor.” In almost all societies, women have higher poverty rates than men; in fact, among the 1.5 billion people living on 1 dollar or less a day, the majority are women and children (United Nations 2015).



Spicker defines poverty as consisting of “serious deprivation” where people are conceived to be poor when their “material circumstances are deemed to be morally unacceptable”. This definition implies a moral imperative and a value judgement which means that something needs to be done about the situation. While it is acknowledged that the core elements of definitions of poverty may differ, the underlying assumption is that this deprivation is detrimental to the well-being of those who are subjected it. The topic “feminization of poverty” calls for an analysis into the definition of poverty and an understanding of the way it is experienced by women. The term “feminization of poverty” was first used by Diana Pearce in 1976 following her observation of women among women in America. She observed that two thirds of the poor were women over the age of 16 and an increasingly large number were from the economically disadvantaged groups.The fundamental conceptualization of feminization of poverty from a feminist perspective is that women suffer discrimination because of their sex and, their special needs largely remain negated and unsatisfied.



United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has identified four key “dimensions” that indicate a heightened rate of poverty for women:

1. The temporal dimension. Women are often primarily responsible for childcare and household duties—tasks for which they receive no pay. Women living in developing nations may also be relied upon to participate in exhausting physical and/or agricultural labor to help support the livelihoods of their families and villages. Having so many other responsibilities, these women have less time to devote to paid employment, and consequently earn a smaller income, even though they are effectively doing more work than their male counterparts.

2. The spatial dimensionWhen employment is sare, women may have to migrate to other areas to find work temporarily. If a woman has children, however, she may be unable to pursue a job that takes her far from her family.

3. The employment segmentation dimension. Being naturally classified as caretakers, women have often been corralled into specific lines of work, such as teaching, caring for children and the elderly, domestic servitude, and factory work such as textile production. These kinds of jobs lack stability, security and a higher income.

4. The valuation dimension. In the same vein, the unpaid labor that women perform in taking care of family members and other household chores is considered of far less worth (at least economically) than positions that require formal education or training.


Other determinants/factors include:

    • The increasing prevalence of female-headed households. One of the long-time causes for increased numbers of single-mother families was a higher rate of male mortality after wars and periods of conflict. In Western countries today, with divorce common and/or or women choosing not to marry, many women are single mothers that must support a household on only their income.
    • Lack of education. In countries where school is not compulsory or where girls encounter various barriers to education, upward economic mobility through higher-skilled employment is nearly impossible.
    • Discrimination. Women may be subject to inequalities in wages, benefits, property rights, and so froth. Cultural practices rooted in misogynistic stereotypes may also incur prejudiced behavior toward women.
    • Globalization and the state of the economy. When economic crises occur, the poor are those who suffer the greatest impact



Women’s position in society is dictated to by the various roles they play. In most, if not all, situations women have the dual responsibility of maintaining a household and working. Generally, most women spend a greater number of hours working than men. However, their work is not calculated in terms of monetary gain or contribution to the economic development of society, Much of the work women are involved in include child care, domestic and other related chores. Despite the vastly different circumstances among developing and developed countries a remarkable similarity exists in the role fathers play in child care. A study of ten countries revealed that on average it was found that men spend less than one hour per day in solo child care. The mobility of women into the economic sector has not been accompanied by a complimentary shift of males in the participation of household and child care responsibilities. For women in developing countries a greater deal of unpaid subsistence work, such as carrying water and firewood, doing food gardening and housework, are prevalent . Similar trends are evident in South Africa. Vast numbers of households are still without clean drinking water, energy, health care and education. Female-headed households are common among poor families. According to UNIFEM (2000) women make up 70% of the world’s 1,3 billion poor and this figure is constantly increasing. In South Africa, the poverty rate among female-headed households is 60% compared to 30% for male-headed households. Some researchers argue that women experience deprivation despite living in households which fall above the poverty line. This has been demonstrated where women use every effort to spare their family from the effects of poverty before meeting their own needs. Such action subjects them to even greater degrees of poverty.



Neo-Malthusian analysts associate global poverty and women’s poverty to women’s fertility. In essence their stance is one of blaming the victim, that is poor Third World women for the global crisis. They argue that pregnancy leads to suffering, low status and powerlessness. Similar thinking has been elucidated by the Population Crisis Committee and UNFPA. According to these organizations women’s social status is strongly correlated to their fertility. The assumption is that pregnancy is fundamental to women’s poverty and powerlessness. Hence, fertility control is estimated to be the primary solution to poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment. Most feminists and social activists advocate for the control of women’s fertility as one of the most important solutions to the problem of feminization of poverty. The new reproductive rights agenda calls for improved quality of services for women’s health. The pre-requisite for gender equality include family planning and reproductive health interventions which are expanded to maternal and child health, prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS. Despite the deterioration of basic health care and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and projections of massive population losses as a consequence, the emphasis continues to be on fertility control.



The eradication of poverty itself is dependent on socio-economic changes in all strata of society ranging from the micro to the macro. However, policy changes in and of itself are inadequate to deal with institutionalized gender inequity which has a profound impact on the quality of life for many women. The eradication of feminization of poverty calls for specific focus on the status of women in society. This has partly been achieved through feminists movements and activities which the role that women play in eradicating conditions that perpetuate feminization of poverty. 

Feminist ideology is an active practical critique directed not only at the academic level and political level but at deeply held beliefs about the character of our society, thought patterns and intimate relationships. Deeply rooted values and beliefs which have influenced gender roles are propagated through the process of socialization and reinforced through institutions of religion and education. Feminist ideology acknowledges the biological and psychological differences but at the same time advocates that equality of the sexes is still possible. The fundamental goal of feminist ideology is to ensure that women are also the accorded full democratic rights. This means the acceptance of women to attain equal worth with men in respect to their common nature as a free person. 

Education, vocational skills and technology are underlying pre-requisites for the economic emancipation of women. Access to resources such as land, credit facilities and technology which are imperatives for sustainable development need to be ensured by changing the contexts. Policy makers are challenged to explore ways in which the women’s potential contribution to economic development can be maximized, their energies and talents effectively mobilized and their resources adequately utilized. Obstructive policies which remain a barrier to women’s participation should be removed.

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