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«Carolina Johansson Wennerholm Kvinnoforum SWEDISH INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION AGENCY Division for Policy and Socio-Economic Analysis This ...»

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The 'Feminisation of Poverty'

The use of a concept

December 2002

Carolina Johansson Wennerholm

Kvinnoforum

SWEDISH INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

COOPERATION AGENCY

Division for Policy and

Socio-Economic Analysis

This study is one of a series of working papers commissioned by the Poverty Project at Sida’s Division for

Policy and Socio-Economic Analysis or closely related to its objectives. The project was initiated in 1999 in order to follow-up and revise Sida’s Poverty Programme which was adopted in 1996. The aim of the studies is twofold: i) to document and discuss Sida’s experiences of working with poverty reduction; ii) to present analyses concerning areas deemed to be of particular relevance for efforts to reduce poverty.

A list of the working papers is attached in an appendix. For more information please contact the Policy Division, Sida, Se-105 25, Stockholm, Sweden.

Telephone: (+46) (0)8 698 5148 Telefax: (+46) (0)8 698 56 21

THE FEMINISATION OF POVERTY – THE USE OF A CONCEPT

2 T H E F E M INISATI ON OF POVER TY – THE USE OF A CON CEPT

The ”Feminisation of Poverty” Carolina Johansson Wennerholm

THE FEMINISATION OF POVERTY – THE USE OF A CONCEPT

4 T H E F E M INISATI ON OF POVER TY – THE USE OF A CON CEPT

Table of Contents Acronyms

I. Executive Summary

Tracing the origins of the term ‘feminisation of poverty’

Actors and interests

General development debate

Feminist interests

Main issues over time

Sidas policies

Conclusions

Perceptions and discourses

Conflation of goals and means

Sweeping generalisations vs. context specific analysis

Instrumentalism vs. strategy

Implications for Sida

Recommendations

II.Introduction

Objective and scope

Methodology

Methods and activities

Limitations

Definitions of terms

III. The ‘Feminisation of Poverty’: the use of a concept

Before 1970: Where are the women? At home!

The lack of interest in women in development policy

The pre-WID approach: mothers’ needs

The 1970s: Who are the Poor? They must produce!

The ‘Basic Needs Strategy’

Women are underrated: bring them in!

The poorest of the poor: female-headed households

Limit fertility to reduce poverty

The International Women’s Conference, Mexico 1975: equity for women!

Policies for women: through equity, towards the anti-poverty approach

The 1980s: Structural Adjustment and Efficiency: women are the poorest!

A growing concern for the complexities of poverty

The anti-poverty approach: but how many are they?

Women’s double role and double burden: poor women!

Poor women without husbands

‘Structural Adjustment Policies’: poor women must bear it all!

Towards the efficiency approach

Southern women’s voices: DAWN

1990s: are all women really poor?

The ‘New Poverty Agenda’

Alternative conceptualisations of poverty

Measuring poverty and human development: the UNDP

Female-headed households: many, but not all of them are poor!

THE FEMINISATION OF POVERTY – THE USE OF A CONCEPT

Questioning the ‘feminisation of poverty’

Conflating poverty with women: strategic or instrumental?

The Beijing Summit 1995

North–South dialogue: affirming and questioning the ‘vulnerable other women’

Some recent trends and issues

Poverty: a multidimensional phenomenon

How to combine policies of poverty with policies of gender?

Poverty among female-headed households

Women’s empowerment as a strategy for poverty eradication

70 per cent of the world’s poor are women: or?

Beijing +5

Summing up the debate

Actors and interests

The general development debate

Feminist interests

Issues: the development of WID/GAD as a field

Female-headed households

Macro-economic policies

IV. Sida’s policies

Development targets

Poverty reduction

Gender equality

Concluding observations

V. Conclusions

Perceptions and discourses

Conflation of goals and means

Sweeping generalisations vs. context-specific analysis

Instrumentalism vs. strategy

Implications for Sida

VI. Recommendations for further studies

Theoretically oriented

Institutional aspects

Interdependency between donors and researchers and NGOs

Implications for programming

Representation of women and media

Annex A

Annex B

Studies related to the work of the Poverty Project 2000/02

–  –  –

DAWN Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era GAD Gender and Development GNP Gross National Product HDR Human Development Report HDI Human Development Index IMF International Monetary Fund IYW International Year for Women (1975) ICRW International Centre for Research on Women NGOs Non-governmental organisations POA Platform of Action (here referring to the outcome of the 4th International Conference of Women, Beijing 1995) Sida Swedish International Development Authority Sida Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency

–  –  –





THE FEMINISATION OF POVERTY – THE USE OF A CONCEPT

8 T H E F E M INISATI ON OF POVER TY – THE USE OF A CON CEPT

I. Executive Summary The concept of the ‘feminisation of poverty’ is used extensively in the development debate and it has meant three distinct things: that women compared to men have a higher incidence of poverty; that women’s poverty is more severe than men’s; and that the incidence of poverty among women is increasing compared to that of men. However, within the framework of Sida’s revision of the Action Programme to reduce poverty and the forthcoming revision of the Action Programme on gender equality, the present study attempts to give an initial overview of how the concept has been used, by whom, in what context, and where possible, why it has been used they way it has. Recognising the complexity in this process, the aim here is to shed some light on the process and to make the reader question the use of ‘assumed concepts’.

The study has been divided in two phases, including a visit to the UK to search the literature and interview key researchers in the field of women/gender and poverty. The present study is a desk study based on literature in the women/gender and development field as well as key Sida policy documents. The study follows the debate in historical order from the 1950–60s to the present.

Tracing the origins of the term ‘feminisation of poverty’ The conceptualisation of ‘feminisation of poverty’ as a term has in this study been traced to the debate encompassing women/gender and poverty. Even though other issues might be contributing to the process, it is argued here that the use and the conceptualisation of the ‘feminisation of poverty’ has been coloured by two broad areas of concern: the general development debate and feminists’ interests. The intersection of these two concerns with poverty has paved the ground for the ‘feminisation of poverty’ as a concept, both to how the term has been conceptualised as well as to the critique of its use. This study has summarised the debate in terms of both the (a) actors and interests and the (b) main issues that have been debated over time.

Actors and interests

General development debate The different actors in the debate have different roles and interests. Multilateral actors such as the UN and the World Bank, through their national government members, formulate policies which reflect their priorities and awareness. However, researchers and advocacy groups within civil society also influence the debate, often in terms of critique. The shift from the early modernisation theories, through the Basic Needs Strategy and the Structural Adjustment Programmes framed by an income-based definition of poverty, towards a multidimensional notion of poverty requiring a complex array of measures, reflects this process.

Feminist interests The voices and arguments of the women’s movement have been pivotal in highlighting the issues important to women in low-income countries. Feminist interests, however, have been raised both within multilaterals and other decision- and policymaking bodies and outside them by researchers, NGOs, and other advocacy groups. The international conferences for women’s issues have been important for the exchange of experiences and the development of strategies and issues that needed to be addressed in and by the women’s movement. Since the early days of ‘women in development’ (WID) in the 1970s women’s different interests have become interwoven. From a period of clear distinction between so-called Northern women’s calls for equality, Southern women’s concern for addressing everyday needs, and Eastern

THE FEMINISATION OF POVERTY – THE USE OF A CONCEPT

women’s concern for peace, an awareness of the complexities of gender power relations other aspects of discrimination and vulnerability has evolved. The distinction between the voices arguing for the different aspects cannot easily be disentangled. Commonalties and differences are integrated in the discourse.

Gender equality remains a goal of the women’s movement; yet poverty, violence, and conflict are recurring themes in many contexts. The best ways to achieve change have been and continue to be debated.

An important shift since the 1950s is that the interests of the women’s movement and those of the general debate have increasingly coincided, and these interests are today largely interwoven. At the intersection of these interests is the common concern for poor women.

Main issues over time The increasing awareness during the 1970s of the existence and vulnerability of female-headed households has over the years alarmed researchers and advocates. Thus, the concept of the ‘feminisation of poverty’ has, since the then and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, been used and linked to the debate about the vulnerability of female-headed households.

The impact of macro-economic policies on women has also been an area of concern. During the 1980s the ‘feminisation of poverty’ concept was largely used to highlight the impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) on poor women; it was argued that SAPs increased women’s already heavy burden.

During the 1990s the term continued to be used, but increasingly researchers questioned the meaning and use of the term. Criticisms stressed the variety in female-headed households, and highlighted how other dimensions of women’s vulnerability influenced the situation of poor women too, quite differently from men. Then the long-assumed definition of poverty – which was limited to economic terms - grew during the 1990s into a multidimensional definition which encompassed the complexity of factors which influence the situation of poor women and men. Furthermore, the increasing focus on gender in the field of development, as opposed to the earlier focus on women, demonstrated the complex link between gender and poverty, and that there were no simple or general answers on how to best address the situation of poor women.

Thus, the conceptualisation of the ‘feminisation of poverty’ has in this process emerged as a term that:

– increased awareness of the existence of female-headed households (1970s);

– illustrated the vulnerability of these households (late 1970s and 1980s);

– illustrated the great number of women living in poverty;

– illustrating the impact of macro-economic policies on women; and – called for women to be recognised in the development process (from 1970s until present).

Sidas policies Sidas policies and priorities tend to reflect the overall changes in the development debate globally. Sida has been quick to address gender equality in the framework of development cooperation.

In terms of the use of the ‘feminisation of poverty’, it is noteworthy that it was addressed in Sida’s Action Plan for the Women’s Dimension in Development Assistance (from 1985) and in the Poverty Action Programme (from 1996). The complex link between gender and poverty was given far more nuance in the Gender Action Programme (from 1997) as well as in the background analysis to the Poverty Action Programme in the report ‘Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods’. Also important is the priority given in the

10 T H E F E M INI SATI ON OF POVER TY – THE USE OF A CO N CEPT

Poverty Action Programme to the target groups of women-headed households, and mothers and children. The focus on these specific groups is noteworthy given the thorough analysis of the link between poverty and gender, particularly as relates to the diversity among female-headed households as described in the report ‘Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods’.

Lastly it is observed that given Sida’s call for integrating the poverty reduction and gender equality programmes, the link between poverty and gender was incorporated in the analysis and the work preceding the Action Programmes on Poverty and Gender respectively in 1996. However, it is noteworthy that the Action Programme on Poverty does not reflect the thorough analysis of the link between poverty and gender, instead the focus is on addressing ‘specifically poor women and children’. This reflects a process of simplification that could be counterproductive to the original analysis.

Conclusions Perceptions and discourses Throughout the debate there has been a tendency to visualise the vulnerability of women, to focus in terms of ‘their needs’ and to stress their poverty.

Various actors have contributed to this:

– Western/Northern researchers and policymakers have generalised perceptions of women in the South as having the same roles as western women.

– Western/Northern feminists have advocated for the ‘poor sisters’ in the South.



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