Women are missing — and missing out
For women, poverty means more than having little or no income. It means lacking control over their income, even in the family. It means missing opportunities because they lack power and voice. It means missing out because they are undercounted, undervalued, underserved, and underrepresented.
Women are missing — and missing out — on many fronts. The value of women’s unpaid work is estimated to equal USD 11 trillion, or almost 50 percent of world GDP, yet this work is missing from national income accounts — leaving women missing out on social security, pension schemes and access to public services.
In terms of paid employment, while more and more women are joining the workforce, they are predominantly clustered in informal work — short term, part time or contract work that leaves them missing from employment-based pension and health insurance benefits. Even in formal employment, women are paid less than men — worldwide, women’s wages are 73-77 percent of men’s wages — and lack similar promotion opportunities.
In too many countries, women and girls are denied a solid education and have no access to credit or legal title to land and property — pre-conditions to overcoming poverty.
Yet women are also missing from the public decision-making structures with the power to shape social and economic policies. As long as social, cultural and economic barriers exclude women from full participation in public life, the solution to the poverty puzzle will remain elusive.
- More people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 50 years than in the previous 500; yet more than 1.2 billion still subsist on less than $1 per day. Although poverty data is not reported by sex in most countries, it is widely estimated that women make up the majority of the world’s poor — owing to unequal access to resources and opportunities, discriminatory land and inheritance laws, and unequal distribution of household resources. WFP reports that 7 out of 10 of the world’s hungry are women and girls.
- Of the 37 million people living below the poverty line in the US, 21 million are women, according to US Census Bureau figures from 2006.
- More than two-thirds of the world’s unpaid work is done by women — the equivalent of $11 trillion or almost 50% of world GDP, according to a global UNDP study from 1995. The informal slogan of the Decade of Women was “women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the means of production.”
- If the average distance to the moon is 394,400km, South African women walk the equivalent of a trip to the moon and back 16 times a day to supply their households with water, according to a 2006 UNDP report.
- Women are missing from poverty statistics that measure poverty by household, rather than individual: systems of national accounts do not include unpaid domestic work as “productive.”
- According to a 2004 report by ILO (reaffirmed in 2006), women make up some 60% of the world’s working poor, people who work but do not earn enough to lift themselves above the $1 per day poverty line.
- Women in the US earned only 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man in 2005, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In the developing world, the ratio is just 73 cents, according to World Bank estimates. For women of colour, the gap is even worse — African American women earn 63 cents and Latinas 53 cents (IWPR 2004).
- At the rate the wage gap is closing, women in the US will not see equal earnings until 2050. Women account for 64% of minimum-wage workers in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007.
- Elderly women are 70% more likely to be poor than elderly men. 35% of American women work too few hours to participate in their company’s plan compared with 20% of men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
- In some regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, women provide 70% of agricultural labour, produce over 90% of food, and yet are nowhere represented in budget deliberations, noted the World Economic Forum in 2005.
- Two-thirds of children denied primary education are girls and 75% of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women, reports the Millennium Campaign in 2007.
- Gender inequality in education and employment in Sub-Saharan African has reduced per capita growth by 0.8% per annum, according to recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates.
- The global average proportion of women in Parliament in 2007 is just 17.3%, according to the Inter Parliamentary Union; the US ranks 67th with a mere 16%.
- The BBC reports that only 10% of directors of UK’s FTSE 100 firms are women.
- Women currently hold only 1 in every 10 top decision-making positions in California’s 400 largest publicly traded companies.
- Women account for less than 1% of directors on corporate boards in Japan.
- Inadequate reproductive health care limits female labour productivity — in some cases by 20%, costing the world 250 million years of productive life per annum, according to an Alan Guttmacher Institute 2004 study.
- Nearly 60% of the reasons given by women in Latin American and the Caribbean for either not entering or leaving the job market relate to their care-giving obligations, according to a 2007 statement from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
- Out of $69 billion of overseas development assistance made available in 2003, only $2.5 billion or 3.6% was earmarked for gender equality as a significant or principal objective, according to a 2007 Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit (CPSU) Policy Brief.
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