Expert Group Meeting on
"Empowerment of women throughout the life cycle
as a transformative strategy for poverty eradication"
26-29 November 2001
New Delhi, India
Ms. Angela E.V. King
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
It is an honour for me to send this message to the Expert Group Meeting on "Empowerment of women throughout the life cycle as a transformative strategy for poverty eradication". I am delighted that this important meeting is taking place in India, a strong supporter of the United Nations, and a committed advocate for gender equality and empowerment of women. I am also most pleased to note that the Secretary-General's report on the "First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006)" (A/56/229), submitted to the General Assembly at its fifty-sixth session, specifically stated that India is among the few countries that are on track to meet the poverty reduction goal reaffirmed by the Millennium Summit in its Declaration of September 2000. That goal is to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day. I wholeheartedly welcome the actions of the Indian Government, and applaud its noble efforts in the battle to eradicate poverty.
I am also deeply grateful for the generosity and genuine hospitality shown by the Government of India in hosting this meeting in New Delhi. I would particularly like to thank Dr. R.V. Ayyar, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of Women and Child Development in New Delhi and Mr. Asith Bhattacharjee, Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York for their valuable and vital assistance in the preparation of this meeting.
Development is about improving the quality of life for everyone, now and in the future. Although the 20th century has seen notable progress in advancing human development in some areas, the scope and depth of human deprivation remains enormous.
Since 1987 the total number of people living on less than one dollar a day has risen to 1.22 billion individuals. The total living on less than two dollars a day has increased to 2.8 billion. Poverty has risen sharply over the same period. For example, the number of people living in poverty increased from 474.4 million to 522 million in South Asia, and from 217.2 million to 290.9 million in sub-Saharan Africa.
Globally, income inequality has also grown. As stated in the 1999 Human Development Report, the ratio between the average income of the world’s wealthiest 5 per cent and the poorest 5 per cent increased from 78 to 1 in 1988, to 123 to 1 in 1993. The poorest 20 per cent of the world's population now share a mere 1.1 per cent of the total global income. That is down from 1.4 per cent in 1991.
But poverty is much more than economic insufficiency, it is a complex and
multidimensional phenomenon resulting from structural imbalances in all realms of life - the state, the society, the economy, the culture and the environment. More often, people in poverty are malnourished and have inadequate shelter, they have no or little access to basic services, they are often in poor health and are inadequately educated, if any sort of formal education is available at all. People in poverty also suffer from marginalization and social exclusion. Poverty reflects the lack of political clout of those in its grip, and magnifies the disparity in social power between the rich and the poor.
Though aggregate estimates of the incidence of poverty are still not broken down by gender, the available data make it clear that women are disproportionately represented among the poor, and that the incidence of women in poverty is alarmingly high and growing.
It is well established that women work longer hours than men, taking into account household and economic activities, in order to achieve the same standard of living. This situation is made worse when reductions occur in public expenditures on social services. Such cuts often come as a result of the process of globalization. Very often women pay the price for these cuts through increased workloads and responsibilities. In addition, women do not always have full control over their most basic asset - their own labour. It is also widely admitted that women have greater difficulties in breaking free of poverty, given their larger share of family and domestic responsibilities and the existing inequalities in access to education, training and opportunities in the labour markets and decision-making.
The lack of access to, and control over, resources needed for one's livelihood, the lack of economic and political strength to compete with other interest groups for a better share of resources, and the inability to influence the decision-making process create a vicious cycle of poverty among women. Breaking out of such a heinous cycle demands more than getting a job, acquiring training, or being approved for credit. It implies being able to carry out one’s own decisions and initiatives. . . it implies empowerment.
The Beijing Platform for Action, and the outcome document adopted by the special session of the General Assembly, emphasized that if we do not take the gender dimension of poverty into account, the causes of poverty cannot be understood or dealt with by public action. Both documents outlined the "empowerment of women as a critical factor in the eradication of poverty". This was also reinforced in the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which indicated that an effective way to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate sustainable development would be "to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women".
The issue of poverty eradication, and achieving the goals of sustainable development, cannot be held distinct from the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. This is especially apparent in the context of globalization. We cannot seek remedies for the marginalization of a large number of countries without considering the marginalization of women within these countries.
On a positive note, globalization has been associated with increased feminization of the labour force, as the female share of employment has grown worldwide. The ongoing changes have a potential not only to expand women's employment and income opportunities, but also to increase their autonomy and self-esteem. Globalization could result in an expansion of choices for women, and increased decision-making power within and outside the household. It could contribute to the transformation of traditional gender values of the society towards the promotion of gender equality. Our critical task is to ensure and sustain the benefits of globalization to women and curtail its negative impact and limitations.
Poverty imposes a heavy economic and social burden on governments and societies, and it robs the present and future generations of human resource potential. Therefore the theme of this meeting is particularly timely and significant. We need to set a new course in the fight against poverty. The time for review is over. The time for action is now.
The Commission on the Status of Women is going to consider this issue as a priority theme at its session in 2002. Your discussions, conclusions and recommendations will have a direct impact on the deliberations of the Commission. Your deliberations would also provide input to the forthcoming Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002 and the follow-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002, reinforcing the importance of integrating a gender perspective in financing for development and sustainable livelihoods. It is a unique opportunity to contribute to the critical global strategy for poverty eradication by helping to make it truly gender sensitive and, therefore, effective.
My best wishes for a highly important meeting.