How poverty impacts women, and what we can do to end it

Just under 10 per cent of the world’s workers live with their families on less than $1.90 a day. In least developed countries, that number rises to 38 per cent of workers. Poverty is more than just the lack of income and resources, it causes hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services. It leads to discrimination, exclusion and lack of say in the decisions that impact our lives.

For women, poverty comes with even more risks and challenges.

Women make significant contributions every day, such as bringing an income to households as an employed wage earner, creating jobs as an entrepreneur, or by taking care of families and elders. However, a woman farmer, for instance, may not be able to make her crops thrive like a man can because she doesn’t have the same access to seeds, credit, technology and extension services. Women are very unlikely to own land — only 20 per cent of landowners globally are women. If she hopes to someday inherit family property, the law may deprive her of an equal share, or social convention may simply favour her male relatives.

Poor girls are more than twice as likely to marry in childhood as those who are wealthy. They then face potentially life-threatening risks from early pregnancy, and often lose the opportunity of an education and a better income. Their poverty becomes a self-sustaining cycle.

On International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October) we are highlighting how improving women’s rights and opportunities can lead to an end of poverty for all.

By increasing women’s financial literacy, providing them with skills in technology, business and climate-smart agriculture, UN Women is working with women around the world to lift them out of poverty.

Improving women’s financial literacy in Ethiopia

Kebela Guru shows the corrugated iron sheets she purchased to build a new home for herself. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

For Kebela Gure, 30-year-old mother of five from the Adamitulu District in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, a good education for her children and an improved family income were the priorities. Today, she is on her way to accomplishing both these goals. Kebela’s husband works as a smallholder farmer and how well his crops do, depends on seasonal rain. His income alone cannot feed their extended family of nine, let alone pay for a house or schooling for five children.

After participating in trainings on financial management and basic business skills, Kebela’s life has taken a turn for the better. The “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women” programme also gave Kebela access to small loans at lower than average interest rates.

“After I received a loan for 6,200 Birr ($280), I rented one-hectare land for 2,000 Birr. I purchased and sowed two quintals of the improved wheat seeds. At the end of the harvest season, I sold the wheat to the Meki Batu Buyers and Sellers Union in my village and earned 17,000 Birr,” explained Kebela. “From my village, I am the only woman who planted and supplied seeds to the union,” she adds.

Encouraged by the results, Gure used part of her income to purchase maize to sell and earn more revenue. She also invested in raising livestock and bought a cart for transporting her merchandise. For the first time, she has also managed to save 2,000 Birr ($90) in a bank account.

Building climate resilience in Albania

Gentiana Sinjari, Administrator of “Tree of Life” (Pema e jetes) farm in Shkallnur, Durres, Albania. Photo: UN Women/Yllka Parllaku

A vast majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and closing the gender gaps in agriculture is essential for ensuring food security, building climate resilience and ending poverty.

“The climate is becoming an issue year after year,” explains Gentiana Sinjari. “This land is very fertile, but the rains that flood during the winter and lack of rain during summer, make it very difficult for the plants to grow. A drip irrigation system was the first necessity, and it was impossible for me to build it by myself.”

Gentiana applied for a subsidy scheme and received about USD 10,000 to install a drip irrigation system that distributes water into the soil on her six-hectare farm. Her project will benefit many more in the village of Shkallnur, as she plans to hire more than 50 people for running the farm, most of them women.

See more on UN Women’s work with rural women

Expanding girls’ opportunities in Jordan

Shurouq Al Hamaideh. Photo: UN Women/Christopher Herwig

Shurouq Al Hamaideh is a 22-year-old social entrepreneur from Tafila, Jordan. After attending a social entrepreneurship training provided as part of UN Women’s Spring Forward programme in 2016, Shurouq, together with her friends, started a social business to teach computer programming to teenagers. Barely three months into the business, 33 young people, including girls, had completed the course.

“We wanted to create an enabling environment for girls and young women to learn technology near their homes, since they do not have a lot of mobility without the consent of their parents or husband,” says Shurouq. “Children are the future of the country, and if girls are empowered, as much as boys, to learn and pursue careers in technology, we can make a lot of progress…I want to teach computer programming to as many girls as possible so that we can break these stereotypes and give girls the chance they deserve.”

It has been estimated that 90 per cent of future jobs will require ICT skills, and some 2 million new jobs will be created in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering fields. By supporting girls to receive the education and skills training to take part in these industries, we ensure they’ll be able to compete in the labour force of the future.

Protecting women’s rights in Pakistan

Khateeja Mallah. Photo: UN Women/Faria Salman

Women’s access to land rights is a critical asset for Khateeja Mallah and other vulnerable rural women. In collaboration with local partners, UN Women is working with 1,214 women farmers to acquire land tenancy rights from their feudal and tribal landholders. These landless women farmers were trained and mentored to prepare tenancy agreements and landholding maps with their male landlords.

Before becoming tenants and without the security of tenure, they were unable to make long-term plans, protect themselves from the impacts of natural disasters, or enhance their standards of living. In many cases, these women were coerced to leave their lands when the crop cycle was at the final harvesting stage, resulting in heavy economic losses and psychological trauma for them and their families. In the absence of formal written agreements, they were unable to protect their rights to reap the full benefits of their crop.

“Having legal access to land, a place to live, and receiving a share of the crops that I plant and harvest was unimaginable.” said Khateeja, “Now, for the first time in my life I can say something is mine. This land, as far as the eye can see is mine — this paper says so. This is my land and I am its queen! I am excitedly waiting for my tough farming days to pay off — for the day when my children are older and earning a good living. That will be the day when I sit down and take a relaxed breath, and start to enjoy life.”

Improving data collection around the world

Globally, how many girls and women are living in poverty? We don’t have data to say for sure. We don’t know what financial and physical assets women possess. We don’t know how much time women spend working, or how much time women spend on unpaid care work.

To better understand, and solve, the problem of women’s poverty, we need better and accurate gender data.

The UN Women Programme “Making every woman and girl count” aims to tackle gender-data gaps, and ensure that these data are actually used to inform policies.

“To know the nature and scale of crises, to solve them or better yet, to stop them from happening in the first place, we need accurate information,” writes Papa Seck, Chief Statistician of UN Women. “We need to know what is causing a crisis and the best way to address or prevent it. Data is information, and information is power.

The programme will be launched in five pathfinder countries — Bangladesh, Morocco, Senegal, Uganda and Kenya.

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