Concepts, Research, Policy
Edited by Sylvia Chant
Chapter 15: Towards a (Re)Conceptualisation of the ‘Feminisation of Poverty’: Reflections on Gender-differentiated Poverty from The Gambia, Philippines and Costa Rica
Sylvia Chant Based on comparative field research with women and men from different age groups in The Gambia, Philippines and Costa Rica,1 this chapter reflects on the applicability of the ‘feminisation of poverty’ to depict contemporary trends in gendered disadvantage. It starts by tracing the evolution and components of this ‘pithy and polyvalent phrase’ (Molyneux, 2007: 18), and proceeds to a brief a priori critique. This is followed by discussion of evidence for a ‘feminisation of poverty’ from the three case study countries, from which revisions to the construct are drawn out. The latter include: (1) paying less exclusive attention to incomes in favour of inputs (such as labour and time) into household livelihoods, (2) abandoning the conventional emphasis on female-headed households at the expense of male-headed units, and (3) acknowledging the dynamics of power and obligation around poverty. Such changes would afford the ‘feminisation of poverty’ greater scope to encapsulate issues of particular relevance for women, especially the burden they shoulder for dealing with poverty. The proposed revisions might, in turn, provide a more fruitful entry point for policy interventions. The ‘feminisation of poverty’: origins, evolution and an a priori critique The ‘feminisation of poverty’ acquired something of its current status as a global ‘orthodoxy’ in 1995, when, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, it was asserted that 70 per cent of the world’s poor were female, and eradication of the ‘persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women’ was adopted as one of the twelve arms...
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