24 October 2017
UNGA Event Discusses Findings from UN Women, World Bank Project on Gender Dimensions of Poverty
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

UN Women partnered with the World Bank to construct gender profiling of the poor through a joint research project.

The project aims to understand the differences between women and men affected by poverty, among other dimensions.

During a meeting of UNGA, representatives from UN Women and the World Bank presented findings from the project, highlighting significant increases in the gender poverty gap during women’s peak reproductive years and women's higher risks of income poverty.

18 October 2017: Representative of governments, the UN system and stakeholders discussed findings from a joint research project of UN Women and the World Bank, which explores how existing data can be used in innovative ways to expand knowledge and understanding of the gender dimensions of poverty. Participants also discussed policy solutions for reducing poverty rates and contributing to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

UN Women organized the event on 18 October 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, as a side event of the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Second Committee (Economic and Financial).

Opening the meeting, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, highlighted limitations in quantifying the challenges faced by women, explaining that data on poverty is collected at the household level and is not disaggregated by gender. To address this gap, UN Women partnered with the World Bank to construct gender profiling of the poor and to understand the differences between women and men affected by poverty and the particular risks to which women are exposed.

Kinnon Scott, World Bank, said the study found that the gender poverty gap between men and women significantly increases during women’s peak reproductive years (15 to 39 years old), with women having higher poverty rates than men. Scott stressed that introducing a gender lens to poverty analysis provides important insights for policy design. She noted that children and dependents are an important vulnerability factor, while education is a strong protective factor against poverty. Scott recommended considering age, marital status and other characteristics of the household when examining welfare and designing policy.

Shahra Razavi showcased the potential “triple dividend” of state investments in a robust, free, quality preschool system, which she said could reduce family poverty, break the poverty cycle and create jobs, among other benefits.

Shahra Razavi, UN Women, highlighted women’s higher risks of income poverty, including from women’s reduced participation in the labor force, reduced income independence and greater time spent on unpaid care work. She said the majority of single-parent families with children are single-mother families and face higher rates of poverty. Razavi further stressed the need for quality childcare services. She showcased the potential “triple dividend” of state investments in a robust, free, quality preschool system: mothers would be able to participate in the labor force, reducing the family’s poverty; children would be better prepared for school, breaking the poverty cycle, regardless of their backgrounds; and preschools would create jobs, which tend to be predominantly occupied by women.

Haris Gazdar, Collective for Social Science Research, Karachi, Pakistan, noted the feminization of agriculture in South-Asia. This trend can lead to high-income for women, he explained, with women tending to spend their income on their children and nutritious food for the family. He observed, however, that increased work, especially in intensive agriculture sectors or when combined with unpaid work, affects women’s health. He also cautioned that, in countries like the US, women’s overwork and poverty leads to cheap and non-nutritional food choices, such as junk food, which have a direct impact on obesity.

Agnes Quizumbing, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said IFPRI’s research in Africa showed that women’s land rights are important for empowerment and investment, but they are not a panacea for women’s problems. She said the formalization of tenure programs offers serious risks as well as opportunities, stressing it is urgent to address women’s land rights in their design, implementation and accompanying literacy campaigns. She cautioned that strengthening women’s land rights is a process of long-term social change and should be handled with care and sensitivity for their social relationships.

Magdalena Sepulveda, Previous Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Mexico, stressed that social protection systems need to be gender-responsive. She shared an example of conditional cash transfers (CCTs) in Latin America that contributed to poverty eradication but benefitted men more than women. She explained that the rate of women living in poverty increased because of the conditionalities associated with CCTs, which promote gender stereotypes.

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised issues related to, inter alia, prioritizing gender equality and women’s empowerment at the core of development aid programmes, the need to focus on rural women, and the contribution of women to creating lasting peace, which is conducive to poverty eradication. [Event Concept Note] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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