Saturday, 23 February 2013

Feminisation of Poverty!

UNIFEM states that more women compared to men are likely to be poor due to disproportionate opportunities for education, healthcare, employment and control of assets between the two genders. Poverty also increases their chances to the risk of violence among other things and they get deprived of basic rights such as freedom and respect.  

Within India and other developing countries, most of the problems are societal. In such countries, where basic sustenance for all members of the family is sometimes difficult, women have to bear the brunt of the shortage of funds for education, food, health and so on,  most of the time. Also, social norms in such societies, dictate women to give up careers and education in order to take up household duties, where they probably work harder than the men, but don’t receive any remuneration for it.  Even if women are allowed to work formally in many occasions they are usually paid less than men. Compulsory primary school education help to a certain level, but most of the developing countries are unable to afford this set-up.

The Hunger Project compiled the seven major reasons for discrimination against women that leads to hunger and poverty for them in India; malnutrition, poor health, lack of education, overwork, remaining unskilled, mistreatment and powerlessness.  Some of these reasons they found not only endanger a woman’s life but also the lives of her children. Such as, the social norm of eating less by women is one of the reasons behind child malnutrition, as they eat less even while pregnant and lactating.

Eradicating this nature of poverty is difficult and will take a long time.  We need to work from the roots, where women specific poverty reduction measures are employed. Such as increasing opportunities for education, proper health care and so on for poor women.  A paper based on a field survey in India finds that the major obstacle behind reducing female poverty in India is the emphasis on women labourers and inadequate economic opportunities for them (Nadal, 2005). So, we need mechanisms to ensure more participation of women in the earned income bracket as well.

Some governments have introduced compulsory quotas in parliaments and private businesses for promoting more women in the workforce. But, unfortunately in many places, the appointment of women stops once the quota requirement is filled, thus not altering the problem to a great extent. What we lack today is a balance and just showing the importance of participation of women in professional arenas may not make much of a difference. Perhaps, it’s equally pertinent to highlight the importance of participation of men in domestic fronts or studying their behaviour in limiting entry for women in professional fronts? For example, Bjarnegard (2009) instead of focusing on women studied how male parliamentary dominance is maintained in Thailand, which points us to reasons why men are preferred over women in such areas. She mentions that the presence of homosocial capital (comprising of the needs to build links with those having important resources and a psychological liking to join people who can be easily understood, predicted and trusted), which is a political capital accessible only to men makes their dominance possible.

Also, property laws cross country should promote equality among both genders.  They are more female headed households in India today, and societies need to make provisions for this increasing trend in future, by ensuring equality in pay, promotions and resources between both the genders.
It’s obviously easier said than done, but the more we say, the more we tend to approach a solution. Thus, by assembling these bricks together today, we hope that tomorrow we might be able to ensure every female in India and other developing countries have economic freedom and prosperity.

1.      Nadal, Santosh (2005) Extent and Causes of Gender and Poverty in India: A Case Study of Rural Haryana, Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, pp.182 – 190.
2.      Bjarnegard, Elin (2009) Men in Politics. Revisiting Patterns of General Parliamentary Representation in Thailand and Beyond. Department of Government. Uppsala, Uppsala University.

 By Parama Bal

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