1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Gender, Poverty and Well-being

  • Project from: 1997 to 1999


Much has been written about gender and about poverty. It is arguable, however, that the relationships between the two have been adequately understood. Nor are they being reflected in policy prescriptions. At one level, the relationship between gender disadvantage and poverty appears to be quite straightforward, as in the tendency to equate women, or female-headed households, with the "vulnerable" or the poor. Alternatively, "investing" in female education is seen as an efficient means of reducing poverty and enhancing growth. While these arguments may have some empirical validity, although to varying degrees in different contexts, the gender analysis of poverty also needs to unravel how gender differentiates the social mechanisms leading to poverty. This is an important question, which has received relatively little attention in recent policy debates. Another important part of the story is to understand how these limited views of the relationships between gender and poverty are being shaped by the emerging poverty models and (neoliberal) policy prescriptions for poverty alleviation—the emphasis on (female) primary education as the route out of poverty being one example, and the residualist "safety nets" for women and other "vulnerable" groups being another.

Research under this project found that the links between gender and poverty lie at the level of social and economic relations and institutions rather than merely poverty "outcomes". It is impossible to integrate gender into the understanding of poverty unless the relational processes of impoverishment and accumulation are brought to centre stage.

Understanding the interface between gender and poverty in these terms raises some difficult questions about whether it can be assumed, as is often done, that the kinds of policies and asset interventions that can strengthen the position of poor men are going to have much of the same impact on poor women.

This project was coordinated by Shahra Razavi. Funding for the project was provided by UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme.