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Poverty has a Feminine Face

The Feminization of Poverty - Causes and Remedies

by guest blogger- Kadiatu Turay- SGUW Intern

The feminization of poverty is a phenomenon in which women represent a disproportionate percentage of the world’s poor. Feminization of poverty is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that disproportionately impacts women compared to men. This concept highlights the intersectionality of gender, socioeconomic status and other factors that contribute to women’s increased vulnerability to poverty. This phenomenon has also gained attention in social, economic and political discourse as it highlights the intersection of gender inequality and economic disparity.

The numbers paint a picture and its not a pretty one

Traditionally, poverty has not been viewed through a gender lens, but research consistently shows that women are more likely to experience poverty and its associated hardships. The feminization of poverty is not merely a statistical observation it reflects systemic inequalities that manifest in various aspects of women’s lives, from education and employment to healthcare and political participation.

According to UN Women, women represent 70% of the world’s poor population, and they are more likely to live in poverty than men.

The World Bank estimates that globally, women aged 25-34 are 25% more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that women are overrepresented in informal and vulnerable employment, with an estimated 740 million women worldwide working in the informal economy.

Over 17.2 millon women are living in poverty and more than half of poor children live in families headed by women. The majority of the 1.5 billion 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. Extreme poverty numbers are slightly higher for the sub-Saharan Africa region, where there are 127 women aged 25-34 living in extreme poverty for every 100 men.

In nearly two thirds of countries, women are more likely than men to report food insecurity.

Lets Examine the Causes

One pervasive factor that underlies all of the subsequent factors is pervasive structural inequality. Societal structures and institutions perpetuate gender inequalities, such as unequal distribution of resources, economic and political power imbalances and the gendered nature of decision making authority between men and women. These structural barriers limit women’s opportunities for economic and social advancement, contributing to the feminization of poverty.

Another key factor that has particularly contributed to the feminization of poverty is that women tend to be caregivers within the family. This means women are more likely to take on unpaid care giving responsibilities for children, the elderly and family members with disabilities. Balancing these responsibilities with paid work is challenging and limits women’s earning potential. It also hinders women getting promotions, bring hired into full time work and limits their pursuit of higher education- perpetuating the cycle of poverty and furthering their economic dependence and poverty.

Another notable factor that has led to the feminization of poverty is gender discrimination perpetuated against women. The discriminatory practices, gender stereotypes and customary laws that were established to both implicitly and explicitly limit women in education, employment and the legal system continue to contribute to women’s economic marginalization. These barriers continue to hinder women’s access to resources and opportunities for economic advancement.

How to change the picture for future generations

The first step to making a change is to understand the causes of the feminization of poverty as outlined briefly above. Next, we must address the continued effects of the feminization of poverty. This requires comprehensive efforts at all levels of society to tackle gender inequalities and promote women’s economic empowerment.

This includes implementing policies to close the gender wage gap, promote equal access to education and employment opportunities, recognize and value unpaid care work, address gender-based violence, and dismantle systemic barriers to women’s rights and equality.

It is also essential for promote social justice and inclusive economic development. By recognizing the unique challenges faced by women in poverty and implementing targeted policies and interventions, societies can work towards creating more equitable opportunities for all, including women.


SGUW Intern, Summer, 2024

Student at the Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone USL.

Gender and Development Studies at the Institute of Gender Research and Documentation (INGRADOC), FINAL YEAR HONS TWO (2)





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