The Feminization of Poverty: A Global Problem

Mercedes Valdés Estrella
Universidad de La Habana, Cuba

In the book “The Invisible Adjustment” of the UNIFEM Regional Program of Training of Women for Development, poverty is considered part of a group of exclusions within areas such as: the marketing of goods and services, the technological environment and the decision-making processes. Thus, poverty is expressed not only in purely economic terms, which reveals the complexity of this analysis.

In the definitions of poverty studied, we observe a substantial nucleus of “exclusion” of individuals from social processes to a certain degree. At the conceptual level, I start from the definition of poverty given by the World Bank: “The impossibility of reaching a minimum level of life”, but adding to that, its complex and multidimensional character, expressed in diverse manifestations in the material and spiritual realms, and in the multiple causes that involve dissimilar aspects of reality. This integral vision of the phenomenon is often absent in the emphases and approaches of poverty studies.

Women’s poverty is increasing. The specificity of women’s poverty should be explained and defended. Women become impoverished because of problems different from those of the men; among them, those related to giving birth (single mothers); affective ruptures (abandonment of families, divorce and widowhood); social problems derived from other types of separations (hospitalization, emigration, imprisonments of husbands or partners); loss of the husband’s or partner’s work, and definitely, in many instances, problems deriving from affective-economic dependence upon men, which accounts for the greatest intensity in conditions of poverty suffered by the women (in the sense of perceiving less social protection and fewer resources with which to confront poverty).

The rediscovery of the traditional situation of poverty that the women experience (the traditional poor, the hidden poor, the elderly, immigrants, gypsies) along with the so-called new poverty (single-parent families), reconverted (women whose husbands have suffered the industrial re-conversion and are not working, etc.) has given rise to what is called the feminization of the poverty. The works of Hilda Scott in 1984 mark the beginning of the discussion of the feminization of the poverty. It is a concept that has been widely diffused in recent times and this term encompasses several different concepts. For this author, the current economic system engenders pauperization, which, though it moves to different rhythms, is a continuous, progressive pauperization for women as a whole, in developed as well as underdeveloped countries. The allotment of remunerated and non-remunerated work, the redistribution of the work based on technical progress, and the increasing transfer to women of the economic responsibility for children — these factors lead to a specific kind of poverty that has never been analyzed as such.