Twenty years have now passed since the Fourth World Conference on Women set out an expansive vision and landmark set of commitments for achieving gender equality in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In 1995, gender equality advocates brought to the fore the lack of empowerment and the multitude of human rights violations experienced by women and girls.
It also focused on the need for comprehensive laws and policies as well as the transformation of institutions, both formal (states, markets, national and global governance structures) and informal (family, community), to achieve gender equality and the full realization of the human rights of women and girls.
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) has set a new 15 year reinvigorated targets for the full realisation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
“In 2030 we want to be able to talk about a world that has achieved gender equality. “We must use the knowledge generated by our experiences to shape that future,” Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka UN Women Executive Director stated at the opening of the CSW59 session at the United Nations headquarters, New York.
The key messages about women and poverty as captured under Agenda 2030 indicate that:
– There is evidence that women are more likely than men to live in poverty. Women are less likely than men to have access to decent work, assets and formal credit.
– Tackling the root causes of women’s poverty requires removing gender inequalities in paid and unpaid work; ensuring social protection across the lifecycle and equal access to assets and increasing investments in infrastructure and basic social services.
– The lack of data on women’s poverty continues to be a major challenge. More and better data is needed to facilitate multidimensional and gender responsive assessments of poverty.
The Platform For Action:
The Platform for Action noted that poverty had various manifestations, including, inter alia, lack of income and productive resources, hunger and malnutrition, ill health, limited access to education and other basic services, homelessness and inadequate housing, unsafe environments, and social discrimination and exclusion.
The Platform for Action emphasized that poverty eradication strategies should be comprehensive and that the application of gender analysis to a wide range of economic and social policies and programmes, including macroeconomic, employment and social policies, was critical to the elaboration and successful implementation of poverty reduction strategies.
It also called upon governments to collect sex- and age-disaggregated data on poverty and all aspects of economic activity as well as to devise suitable statistical means to recognize and make visible the full extent of women’s work and all their contributions to the national economy.
A report of the UN Secretary-General on the 20-year review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly acknowledges that;
Between 1990 and 2010, the proportion of people in developing regions living under the threshold of $1.25 a day (in terms of purchasing power parity), the international benchmark for measuring extreme poverty, fell from 47 percent to 22 per cent, thereby meeting Millennium Development Goal target .
While the majority of the world’s poor continue to live in rural areas, the share of the urban poor has increased significantly over the past decade, alongside rapid rates of urbanization and is expected to grow further in the years to come.
There is evidence that women are more likely to live in poverty than men. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, women are overrepresented in poor households, mainly because they are less likely to have paid work, and even when they do they are, on average, paid less than men.
Data from demographic and health surveys shows that in 29 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, women aged 15 to 49 are much less likely to earn cash income than men in the same age category.
While 83 per cent of men earned cash income over the 12 months preceding the survey, this was true for only 33 per cent of women.
Across countries and regions, women are less likely than men to have access to decent work, assets and formal credit, although systematic global data on some of these dimensions have yet to be collected.
The lack of data on women’s poverty continues to be a major challenge. The need for better multidimensional poverty statistics, disaggregated by sex, was highlighted in many responses, confirming that action on this front is long overdue.
Most existing measures continue to be based on household survey data where aggregate household-based income or consumption data are used to calculate per capita income.
Yet, the distribution of income within households is typically unequal, meaning that a large number of poor women may be living in households that are not categorized as poor.
In addition, income-based poverty indicators are limited from a gender perspective because they capture absolute deprivation rather than the fulfilment of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Multidimensional measures of poverty can complement income-based indicators of poverty through the simultaneous consideration of overlapping deprivations.
Many States recognized the multiple and interlocking determinants of women’s poverty, including lack of, or limited access to, education, family planning, health care, housing, land and other assets.
Recent research shows that the availability and distribution of time across and within households can be integrated into poverty assessments. Such assessments have been piloted in a few countries, showing that poverty rates increase significantly when time deficits are taken into account alongside income deficits.
Emerging trends in the implementation of national-level strategies include increasing women’s access to paid employment through policies that enable women to reconcile paid work and unpaid care responsibilities; strengthening labour market regulations; and implementing public works programmes or employment guarantee schemes.
Also significant is the enhancing of women’s income security throughout the life cycle through social protection including: child benefits, conditional cash transfers, old-age pensions and subsidies for education, health care and housing.
Improving women’s livelihoods through access to land, property and productive resources through legal reform; the issuance of individual or joint land and property titles for women; housing subsidies and access to agricultural technologies, information and resources are other important targets.
Furthermore, increasing women’s economic opportunities through access to financial services through microcredit schemes and mobile technologies.
Priorities for future action and accelerated implementation Tackling the root causes of women’s poverty requires concerted action to further remove gender inequalities in paid and unpaid work as well as broader efforts to extend essential social protections and access to assets through the adoption and implementation of labour market policies and carefully designed social protection policies.
Greater investments are needed in infrastructure and basic social services, including education, energy, health, water and sanitation, to reduce poverty and improve well-being, but also to free up women’s time for productive activities.
More and better jobs for women require an enabling macroeconomic environment with a focus on reducing inequality and realizing women’s human rights through decent work generation and social investments.
Investing in gender equality through the implementation of special measures to contain its poverty-inducing effects on women, particularly through measures preventing households from falling into poverty by buffering against sudden drops in income should be prioritized.
In addition, countries need to integrate gender-responsive investments in environmental protection and climate change mitigation processes into their national planning not only to accelerate implementation but also to avoid retrogression in the realization of women’s right to an adequate standard of living.
Finally, more and better data is needed to facilitate multidimensional and gender-responsive assessments of poverty as well as the impact of specific policies and programmes on women, including the distribution of income and time within households.
By Francis Ameyibor