The Feminization of Poverty

Women today suffer throughout the world because of poverty, discrimination, violence and exploitation. The “feminization of poverty” sounds an ominous toll not just for women, but for the family and society as a whole. The “feminization of poverty” is a term used to encapsulate a view of global poverty:

  • that more women than men are poor;
  • poor women suffer from less access to education, healthcare, property, jobs training and capital than poor men;
  • the severity of poverty is higher for women;
  • women face greater hardships and obstacles lifting themselves and their children out of poverty;
  • there are poor women in non-poor families,
  • and the poverty of women is growing, not diminishing.

Improving the political, legal, cultural, economic and social status of women is pivotal to escaping the poverty trap. (See “Poverty, Culture and Religiosity” by Fransiscus Xaverius Eko Armada Riyanto, C.M. Vincentiana, July-August 2008 52nd Year, N. 4.) This will only be achieved by mobilizing strong advocates for those living in poverty.

Some Statistical Evidence of the “Feminization of Poverty”

  • Women make up 70% of the world’s 1.5 billion people living in absolute poverty (earning less than $2 USD a day).
  • Women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn 10% of the income and own 1% of the property.[1]
  • 876 million adults are illiterate, of which 2/3 are women.[2]
  • Out of 114 million children not in school, 60% are girls.
  • Every minute a woman dies of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth (more than 500,000 women every year).
  • 42 million people live with the AIDS virus, of which 39 million are in developing countries; today half of the infected people are women, while only 10 years ago 30% of AIDS patients were women.
  • 14 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The number of “AIDS orphans” is expected to double by 2010.
  • One in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.[3]
  • Each year almost 500,000 women and young girls enter Western Europe as part of the illegal trade in humans.
  • In the United States, the poverty rate is higher for women. 13.8% of females are poor compared to 11.1% of men (2007). The rates change but are consistently higher for women in all racial and ethnic groups, age groups and women with or without children. Women are paid 77% of what men earn, even with the same qualifications.[4]



[1] Unicef, “Gender Equality —The Big Picture,” 2007
[2] AIC Training Booklet “Women & Poverty” 2007. Unfootnoted bullets are also from that source.
[3] UN Report of the Secretary General “In-depth Study of Violence Against Women,” 2006
[4] US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2008 Annual Social and Economic Supplement