Womanhood and Poverty

Womanhood and Poverty

In the 21st century, rights are generally and universally recognized as inherently and equally belonging to all human beings. These rights form the foundations of our ability to live in freedom, justice and peace and are inviolable, inalienable and protected by the rule of law in the majority of states and by the international community.

Although the recognition of human rights is deemed to be universal for all peoples and all nations, not all states recognize or respect human rights. The history of their birth and the struggle behind their emergence is often one of protest, struggle, opposition and resistance, whether conducted peacefully or through conflict and bloodshed.

The role of activism has been and continues to be essential in establishing the cradle of human rights along with the courage, determination and sacrifice of activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai and others. These individuals would not have been able to fulfil their mission without the support and assiduous work of countless organizations and individuals who shared the same ideals of a world where all humans can enjoy the same fundamental rights and benefit from equal opportunities. Active and informed citizenship plays a vital role in their recognition and defence.

The continuing existence and in some cases proliferation of practices such as slavery, female genital mutilation, trafficking, child marriages, ethnic cleansing, severe racial or religious discrimination, criminalization and cruel punishment of non-heterosexual orientation etc. make it clear that the fight for achieving equal rights and opportunities is still a long way from being won. Some countries struggle with recurring problems in ensuring respect for all their citizens’ liberties. Recent movements and campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, He for She and many more are the contemporary face of the ongoing struggle for equality in fact as well as on paper.

Often in a precarious balance with the need for national and international security, human rights are an exceptionally high stake of ideological and political battles, their extent and interpretation can draw unseen borders between cultures and civilizations, they are at the very foundation of our lifestyles and when threatened, they can act as a powerful catalyst for all kinds of civic unrest, ranging from full-blown revolutions to peaceful protesting and heated public debates. Civil rights and liberties have become a fundamental part of citizens’ identities, paradigms and lifestyles. They stem from our core values, they closely reflect our society and they are at the top of the list of ideals people would kill or die to defend.

According to United Nations’ WomenWatch[1], the great majority of the over one billion people struggling with severe poverty across the globe are women. This unequal division of wealth – or in this case, lack thereof – among genders is known as the feminization of poverty. A combination of factors ranging from traditional gender norms, practices and stereotypes to legal barriers preventing women from acquiring wealth in their own name are constantly working towards keeping women statistically poorer than men. This situation is quite evident in some developing countries, where female citizens often have (sometimes formally) restricted access to education and to the labour market, being confined to unpaid domestic and caregiving work and thus highly reliant on men for their survival and prosperity. However, the feminization of poverty also affects developed states, due to issues such as wage gaps, single motherhood or underpaid and undervalued feminized labour sectors.

The feminization of poverty is one of the most severe issues that affects women across the globe. In most parts of the world, being born female is enough to put one at a higher risk for becoming poor and having to face all the other hardships that go hand in hand with it this status: low access to education, to healthcare, malnutrition, the threat of homelessness and many more.

But what does this female-faced poverty really mean? What does it mean to society as a whole that half of its members make up most of its poor? What does it mean to women everywhere that they are born with a higher risk of becoming poor? What does it mean for the children born and raised by mothers struggling with poverty? And most of all, what does it mean to be a woman and poor?

The Womanhood and Poverty research stream seeks to explore the specific way being or having been poor affects women’s lives, the way it shapes their identities, choices, opportunities and experiences, to reveal the impact female poverty has on families and society as a whole and to identify solutions for curbing the feminization of poverty.

[1] http://www.un.org/womenwatch/directory/women_and_poverty_3001.htm