Feminization of Poverty in the Indian subcontinent
How women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to poverty, and why it happens.
Hazel Gandhi, Managing Editor
Illustration by Suryansh Deo Srivastava
In 1905, after the death of her husband during an ongoing divorce proceeding, a woman discovered that she had inherited close to nothing from his relatively huge estate. Most of what he owned went to a mistress. This forced her to fend for herself from the very limited resources she had. With some jewellery she owned and money she had saved, she decided that she wouldn’t let any other girl face what she had. With this thought in mind, the woman, Juliette Gordon Low, came to be the founder of what we today know as the Girl Scouts. The organization was created to make girls self-dependent and is successful even today after 100 years of its manifestation.
Now, let us presume that Gordon Low did not happen to have the jewelry and money that she did. We would probably never see an organization like the Girl Scouts, and as for Gordon Low, she would be pushed into a vicious trap of poverty after having exhausted all her savings. This is the fate most women are met with. In a similar scenario that occurs more frequently in India, women are then subjected to extreme poverty, increasing the financial gap between men and women.
Thanks to empowerment in urban areas, women have succeeded in shattering the glass ceiling and emerging on top, making it easy for people to claim that women are not an oppressed population anymore. What they fail to realize is that these success stories constitute a small portion of our female population that excludes 81% of our women in the workforce that are facing the brunt of the worst financial disparities.
The growing difference between the levels of poverty among men and women, where women are poor solely because of their gender, is what has led to poverty becoming feminized. It was in 1978 that researcher, Diana Pearce, first made this observation and coined the term ‘feminization of poverty’, which was rising at an alarming rate.
In India, this unfortunate situation is not limited to single mothers or divorced women. The reason being that our social system has paved the way for feminization of poverty, and created a breeding ground where it now thrives. This is seen in our literacy rates. On the one hand, where the literacy rate among men is over 80%, the female literacy rate is trailing behind at about 65%. How can one expect women to overcome poverty when they cannot even be self-reliant? Illiteracy leads to unemployment, which goes hand in hand with poverty.
Apart from illiteracy, another contributing factor to poverty among female-led households is the social prejudice harboured by the society that a large percentage of the female population too, has internalized.
Apart from illiteracy, another contributing factor to poverty among female-led households is the social prejudice harboured by the society that a large percentage of the female population too, has internalized. Most daughters do not inherit an equal share in their family property where parents prefer giving a larger part of it to the son. Most women are told to take a step back from work and fulfill feminine and motherly duties like child-rearing. These same women then become vulnerable to poverty in cases of divorce.
Men are poor too, but social enforcements make it comparatively easy for them to escape poverty. The question to ask here is, ‘Has poverty really gained a feminine face?’ The answer is scaringly tipping towards the affirmative.
Gunjan, R. (2018). News 18. Retrieved from: https://www.news18.com/news/india/how-indias-women-work-80-employed-in-rural-areas-more-than-half-suffer-illiteracy-1789009.html
Singh, C. (2015). Global Institute for Research and Education. Retrieved from: longdom.org/articles/womens-literacy-in-india-issues-and-challenges.pdf