Women, men and poverty: an introduction to gender justice


When it comes to poverty and gender inequalities everyone loses out – women, men, boys, girls, communities, the economy, the environment – the list goes on. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Here’s a brief introduction to the issue and what can be done about it from Jemma Stringer, Gender Justice Officer and Laurie Adams, our Women’s Rights Director.

Across the world it is women and girls who suffer the most as a result of inequality between the way women and men are treated. And it is women who have the greatest potential to end the poverty and injustice they and their families and communities face.

Credit: OxfamWomen and girls are bearing the brunt of poverty. The ILO in 2009 calculated that women account for two thirds of the people currently living in extreme poverty and 60% of the working poor in the world. Globally, women own fewer assets than men. They earn less money, have fewer legal rights, do the vast majority of
unpaid care work, and are grossly under-represented on the political stage. They’re often legally discriminated against too: 128 countries still give women a lower legal status than men. And with one-in-three women suffering physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, many are living in constant fear of abuse.

The specificity of how women are discriminated against varies across cultures. The causes are deep rooted and can feel complex. However, women and girls everywhere, and their allies, are bringing about change. Over the last 15 years, there has been great progress in reducing the ‘gender gap’ in education because the world united to make it happen: the gap in primary education globally is virtually eliminated – with progress in Southern Asia up from a ratio of 74/100 girls to boys to 103/100.

Building on this success, our governments, through the UN, have now united through the Sustainable Development Goals to both end extreme poverty everywhere for everyone, and to achieve gender equality, within 15 years. The solutions to achieve this are known: and at their heart is women and girls having the voice, choice, and resources to end poverty for themselves, their families, and their communities. We all have a role to play to mobilise the necessary resources, cultural change and political will for this to happen.

Why is gender inequality important for development?

Gender norms and inequalities, along with other factors such as age, race, religion, and sexual orientation, affect the way in which individuals are treated.

Efforts to overcome poverty need to acknowledge and respond to gender inequalities in order to meet the specific needs of all women and men, boys and girls in each community.

In addition to ensuring that efforts to overcome poverty are effective for all sectors of society and both genders, a fundamental shift needs to take place in the balance of power. This involves challenging the structures, beliefs and values that maintain gender inequalities and prevent women from realising their human rights.

How does Oxfam approach gender justice work?

Oxfam undertakes two complementary approaches in its gender justice. Firstly, we make sure that all of our work, whether a humanitarian response, a campaign, or a longer term development programme, integrates gender and women’s rights through every stage of the design, implementation and evaluation process – this is often referred to as gender mainstreaming. An example of gender mainstreaming would be providing water points and toilets in safe locations in conflict situations
such as Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, so that women are not at increased risk of attack when they use these facilities.…a fundamental shift needs to take place in the balance of power

The second approach involves specially designed gender programmes that address the disadvantage experienced by women due to gender inequalities directly and explicitly – this is often referred to as a stand-alone gender approach. For example, in Uganda Oxfam is supporting widows to have secure and equal ownership of the land they and their children farm. While in Honduras, Oxfam is challenging the government about their failure to prevent and prosecute for murders of females.

Stand-alone approaches are particularly important for raising awareness or promoting changes in areas where there are gross violations of women’s rights or where targeted interventions are likely to have the most impact in terms of achieving broader equality for women. Other stand alone initiatives could include tackling violence against women, promoting women’s representation and participation in national politics, or campaigning for women’s inheritance or property rights.

And, wherever you are, there are actions you as an individual can take to stand up against gender inequality.

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Photo: Members of the Kibabi WASH Committee Meeting (men and women) 04 November – North Kivu, Eastern Congo. Credit: Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam

Author: Jemma Stringer
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.