The feminization of poverty

I’ve dedicated the month of March to women’s issues in our society, and this is the last of the series.

Poverty is costly.

The cost of poverty has been estimated to cost the federal and provincial governments billions of dollar annually. In Toronto alone, poverty is estimated to cost the government over $5 billion in health care, policing and depressed economic productivity. That is over $5 BILLION the city is losing just to mitigate the effects of poverty on its most vulnerable population, including women and children. After all, Toronto has been deemed the capital of child poverty.

Just like many other social issues, poverty is not only a woman’s issue. Poverty is a human rights issue that can affect anyone. It has many causes, including lack of skills or education, loss of employment, physical or mental disability,  discrimination in the workplace, and precarious employment. 1 

However, poverty has a gendered element.

The feminization of poverty

The feminization of poverty refers to the gender dimension of poverty, where there are disparities between men and women in terms of their choices and opportunities. The gendered aspect of poverty takes into account the minimum basic needs as well as the denial of opportunities and choices for women living in poverty.

According to Canadian Women’s Foundation,  1.5 million women in Canada live on a low income. Most importantly, women from marginalized groups are highly susceptible to poverty, specifically, single mothers, Aboriginal women, racialized women, women with disabilities, and senior women. According to their report 1:

  • 21% of single mothers are raising their children in poverty.
  • 37% of First Nations women (living off reserve) live in poverty.
  • 28% of visible minority women live in poverty.
  • 33% of women with disabilities live in poverty.
  • 16% of single senior women live in poverty.

The economic restructuring of the past two decades that Canada has endured has led to “the emergence of ‘precarious work’ – temporary, part-time, contract, casual, types of work with low pay, few or no benefits, little or no job security, and poor working conditions” which has exacerbated economic, social and political inequality for the most vulnerable populations of women, men, and children.

According to various Canadian studies, the emergence of the labor market under neoliberal economic restructuring have had a particularly adverse impact on racialized women.4 Women, especially those from marginalized groups, face greater challenges in labor market participation, including unequal access to employment, employment discrimination, disproportionate vulnerability to unemployment and underemployment, and income inequality.

However, poverty is a complex phenomenon that goes beyond monetary deprivation.3 It also includes, even more so, lack of sufficient access to education, lack of opportunities, and lack of social capital and social inclusion that others in society have relative access to. This is also known as human poverty, “the denial of the opportunities and choices most basic to human life– the opportunity to lead a long, healthy, and creative life, and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem, and respect from others.” As a result, they face precarious health, barriers to education, their labor is undervalued in the labor market, and they lack the social support they need to change their situation. Empowering women, by providing women with access to economic and educational opportunities, is a critical factor in elevating the millions of women from the vicious cycle of poverty.

Conclusion

  • The neo-liberal restructuring of our economy has resulted in the emergence of precarious employment and exacerbated income inequality that disproportionately affects women from low-income households.
  • The concept of human poverty should be more relevant than income measurements for policy-makers and other stakeholders in taking action to eradicate poverty.
  • The focus for poverty reduction strategies should also include challenging deep-seated structural causes of poverty as well as strategies of empowerment for women living in poverty.

References

  1. Canadian Women’s Foundation. 2017. Fact Sheet Women And Poverty In Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.canadianwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Facts-About-Women-and-Poverty.pdf
  2. Galabuzi, Grace-Edward. 2005. “The racialization of poverty in Canada: Implications for Section 15 charter protection.” In The Twentieth Anniversary Year of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  3. Chant, Sylvia. 2017. “Addressing world poverty through women and girls: a feminized solution.” Sight and Life Magazine 30(2): 58-62.
  4. Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko. 1999. “What does feminization of poverty mean? It isn’t just lack of income.” Feminist Economics 5(2): 99-103.
  5. Source of Picture: https://www.awid.org/special-focus-sections/commission-status-women

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