Fact Sheet No.1
Feminization of Poverty
The majority of the 1.5 billion
people living on 1 dollar a day or less are women. In addition, the gap
between women and men caught in the cycle of poverty has continued to
widen in the past decade, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "the
feminization of poverty". Worldwide, women earn on average slightly
more than 50 per cent of what men earn.
Women living in poverty are often denied access to critical resources
such as credit, land and inheritance. Their labour goes unrewarded and
unrecognized. Their health care and nutritional needs are not given priority,
they lack sufficient access to education and support services, and their
participation in decision-making at home and in the community are minimal.
Caught in the cycle of poverty, women lack access to resources and services
to change their situation.
The Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women,
held in Beijing in 1995, identified the eradication of the persistent
and increasing burden of poverty on women as one of the 12 critical areas
of concern requiring special attention and action by the international
community, governments and civil society.
The United Nations Commission
on the Status of Women discussed the issue of women and poverty at its
fortieth session in 1996, and proposed further action to be taken by UN
member states and the international community, including the mainstreaming
of a gender perspective in all poverty eradication policies and programmes.
Among the agreed conclusions of the session were measures aimed at policies
to ensure that all women have adequate economic and social protection
during unemployment, ill health, maternity, child-bearing, widowhood,
disability and old age; and that women, men and society share responsibilities
for child and other dependant care.
are the World's Poor
An important achievement of the Beijing Conference has been the recognition
by governments that there is a gender dimension to poverty. This
has resulted in efforts to refocus poverty eradication policies to address
specifically the needs of women, particularly in rural areas. It
has also led to the introduction of a wider definition of poverty, one
that not only takes into account minimum basic needs but also includes
the denial of opportunities and choices.
The overwhelming majority of countries reporting on their implementation
of the Beijing Platform for Action have referred to many initiatives in
this area. A few examples are:
- In Uganda, there is now
an understanding that only by incorporating a gender perspective in
all aspects of the National Poverty Eradication Action Plan can the
goal to eradicate mass poverty by the year 2017 be achieved.
- Cameroon, Madagascar and
Niger have identified women as a specific target group in their national
poverty eradication programmes.
- Senegal has conducted gender
training for senior decision-makers
to mainstream a gender perspective into sectoral development planning.
- In 1998, the Palestinian
Ministry of Social Affairs devoted resources to special projects for
the development of entrepreneurial skills among women.
- Denmark's development assistance
policy calls for the inclusion of a gender perspective in all programmes.
- Singapore has implemented
the Small Families Improvement Scheme, the purpose of which is to help
low-income families to get access to education and housing.
Women and Globalization
The negative impact of the
globalization of the world economy is borne disproportionately by women.
As the economy becomes increasingly linked to global markets, it often
leads to a reduction in public spending and social programmes, pushing
the costs on to the family, where it is most often the women who shoulder
the added burden.
- China has reported that
due to its comprehensive approach to poverty eradication among women,
the number of its citizens living in poverty has dropped from 65 million
in 1995 to 42 million in 1998. Sixty per cent of those freed from poverty
have been women.
- Zambia, like most African
countries, is trying to cushion the negative impact of structural adjustment
programmes on women. It is implementing a Social Action Programme
that will provide payment for women's education and health services.
- The PROGRESEA programme,
introduced in Mexico in 1997, offers assistance to poor women in the
areas of employment, education, health and nutrition.
- The introduction of a minimum
wage in the United Kingdom and the United States has benefited 1.3 million
and 5.7 million women, respectively.
- In Georgia, an analysis
of the impact of macroeconomic investments and taxation policies on
women helped formulate policies to minimize the negative impact of economic
transformations on women.
- In Germany, a pilot project
called "Assistance for single homeless mothers" integrated
women into society and provided them with employment.
Key to Change
Empowering women is a critical
factor in freeing the millions of people who are caught in the cycle of
poverty and hunger. By providing women with access to economic and educational
opportunities, as well as the autonomy needed to take advantage of such
opportunities, an important obstacle to poverty eradication would be overcome.
The provision of credit, especially
micro-credit, has become a very popular and successful strategy for poverty
eradication. According to the United Nations Development Programme's Poverty
Report 1998, at present some 10 million women around the world are reached
by systems of small loans. Among the examples, since the Beijing Conference,
- In 1997, the United States
granted more than 10,000 loans, totalling 67 billion dollars, to women
- In Belize, the Small Farmers
and Business Bank provided 29 per cent of its funds to women.
- Japan gave interest-free
loans to 27,000 rural women.
- Since 1994, 96 per cent
of Palestinian women who participated in agricultural projects benefited
from the implementation of loan programmes.
- In Trinidad and Tobago,
the Small Business Development Company has distributed 65 per cent of
its loans to women.
- In Sudan, the United Nations
Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided seed money for the establishment
of commercial enterprises to raise the standard of living of low-income
- In Viet Nam, a project supported
by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has reached more than
60,000 poor women in 198 communes of 28 provinces, providing them with
small loans and basic knowledge about income generation activities.
The Beijing Platform for Action
also called on countries to "undertake legislative and administrative
reforms to give women full and equal access to economic resources, including
the right to inheritance and to ownership of land". However, progress
in this area has been slow. Only a small number of countries including
Bolivia, Malaysia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have changed their laws
to make it possible for women to inherit land.
In both developed and developing
countries, there has been an increase in the number of female-headed households.
Female-headed households that do not have access to remittances from male
earners are generally assumed to be poorer than male-headed households.
Female-headed households are more vulnerable to increased unemployment
and reductions in social and welfare spending. Actions to counter this
- In the 1988 Budget Law,
Italy allocated 250 million lire to guarantee a basic income for poor
families, most of which were headed by women.
- Iran and Japan have allocated
funds to programmes that integrate rural female-headed households into
- Singapore has implemented
the Small Families Improvement Scheme designed to help low-income families,
particularly those headed by women, gain access to education and housing.
- Greece has instituted allowances
benefiting female-headed households.
This fact sheet is
based on "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing
Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General" (E/CN.6/2000/PC/2).
Published by the
United Nations Department of Public Information