Another thing they don’t tell you about poverty
Chloe Safier (@chloelenas) pointed out that my list of 21 things they never tell you about poor countries didn’t pay enough attention to gender. She was kind enough to send me some comments. One of the problems with the way we talk about the majority world is that we see the poor as an undifferentiated mass.
Here are some of her main points (I hope I don’t do Chloe an injustice by paraphrasing in places — her full comments are more illuminating and nuanced):
- As Duncan Green of Oxfam says, “gender is undoubtedly one of the world’s great faultlines of distribution and injustice”. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor and usually earn less than men.
- The discipline of economics tends to ignore the kind of work that women do, which is often unpaid. The economic statistics don’t disaggregate according to gender. Economics is very masculine. It’s rare to find a economic development models that includes work outside of the traditional market space. When gender issues are considered in the context of economics, it’s often done in a way that sees women’s rights as a means to achieving economic growth rather than goals in themselves. As noted in a recent report from UN Women, “economic growth alone does not promote gender equality.”
- The global economic system depends on women to perform care work without cost: caring for the sick, household chores, informal education, childcare.
- Gender inequality limits economic growth. A recent study found that “increasing the levels of female employment could help raise GDP by 5% in the United States; 9% in Brazil; 9% in Japan; 11% in Italy; 12% in the United Arab Emirates, and 27% in India.”
- Women are often unable to inherit land due to restrictive laws, reducing the efficiency of the economic system and feeding our misperception that the world is ‘full up’ and that we are unable to provide enough for everyone.
- In contrast to the above two points, some feminist economists say that we shouldn’t be pushing for women to take part in the paid labour market if it’s inevitably going to lead to exploitation. If men are unhappy in their jobs, we shouldn’t push for unhappy jobs for women. We need a more just and humanised economy that doesn’t rely on marginalizing some for the profit of others.
- Economic development and aid work should be much better at dealing with gender. According to Sylvia Chant of the London School of Economics “there is still no international database which provides a breakdown of the incidence of women’s monetary poverty in comparison with men’s.”
- Chloe adds a final point: “When we ignore the complex ways that individual and communal identities can impact poor people’s lives, we miss some of the driving factors of poverty and we miss an opportunity to redress the (gendered and other) inequalities that are keeping people poor, voiceless, and without rights.”