Poverty is Sexist

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No, really.

While the debate around this truth rages everywhere, girls and women living in extreme poverty – those often hit hardest by the injustice of gender inequality – have been left out of the conversation.

This must change. The fight for gender equity is global.

Some 62 million girls are denied the right to education. Half a billion women can’t read. 155 countries still have laws that discriminate against women.

Their letter doesn’t go into much detail, so I’ll fill in the blanks. 

Systems of oppression tend to reinforce one another. To name one example, women are responsible for the bulk of “unpaid care work,” such as cleaning house and looking after kids or the elderly, across the entire globe. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, an increased workload in one area means less time to do other things. In practice, this translates into women having less free time than men, less time to pursue educational advancement, and more women in part-time or flexible work that pays less than steady full-time jobs.

There’s no reason hauling water or wiping bums must be done by women (unless you’re willing to argue women are stronger than men or less fragile, of course), so this unequal work balance is sexist. This unequal work balance is also the main contributer to the genedered wage gap. If women are typically poorer than men, then it follows that women are more likely to be in poverty. And they are

Ergo, one way to fix poverty is to fix sexism: reduce the gender gap, and fewer people will be in poverty. Conversely, if you reduce poverty by beefing up social safety nets, you effectively turn unpaid care work into paid care work via public subsidy, and render the gendered wage gap toothless.

The feminist term for this overlap of oppressions is “intersectionality,” by the by. While some people freak out over the term, it’s clear that many of those those in power are comfortable with it.

I accept your challenge to lead. As a feminist, I know that women must be treated equally everywhere. That is why, as one of my first actions as Prime Minister, I named a gender balanced Cabinet. It is my hope that this will set an example for governments around the world.

The Government of Canada is taking another important and concrete step: we will host the Global Fund replenishment conference in Montreal in September. We have also raised our contribution by 20% to $785 million CDN.


Intersectional discrimination has only recently been recognised, at least in international forums as a serious obstacle to the achievement of equality for many marginalised women. Historically, at the international and national levels, racism or racial discrimination on the one hand and gender discrimination on the other, have always proceeded in official thinking and policy along mutually exclusive lines. However, the notion of intersectional discrimination has now been acknowledged in a series of UN conferences on women. See for example the Beijing Platform for Action document and the subsequent ‘Outcome Document’ – the report of the twenty third special session of the general assembly – Beijing+5 in 2000.


Summing up: gender equality – the key to the Pandora box of development?

The gender and poverty assessment in Mongolia draws on a rights based approach which delineates the complexity and intersectionality of gender as an intrinsic element of development. Still it is a big challenge to translate the results of the analysis into the logic of policy and project, and to develop baselines for a theory of change and meaningful development initiatives. The management systems which determine current development practice are very much driven by the principles of efficiency. Driven by an economic logic they are organised by sectors which makes it very difficult to adopt an intersectionality approach. It would go beyond the scope of this paper to analyse the managing principles, however we hold that in the context of poverty reduction strategies it is crucial to include gender mainstreaming performance.

And if economists and government policy makers understand it, maybe you should too.

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