It is estimated that women represent 70 per cent of the world’s poor, a figure that indicates that women bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty. Census figures from 2000 indicated that in Canada women had a poverty rate almost 20 per cent higher than men, earned on average 80% of their salary and experienced higher levels of unemployment.
Statistics consistently show that women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and control of assets. The implications of poverty for women are wide ranging and millions of women are frequently left without even basic rights such as access to clean drinking water, sanitation, medical care and decent employment.
Being poor also means that women have very little protection from violence and that they have no role in decision-making. Throughout the developing world, rural women engage in multiple economic activities that are critical to the survival of poor households. Rural poor women play an essential role in crop production and livestock care and they provide the food, water and fuel their families need. This is particularly the case in some of the poorest and most marginal areas, which are characterised by extensive and increasing male migration. In these areas, agriculture has become increasingly feminised. In 1997, in fact, almost 70 per cent of women of working age in low-income, food-deficit countries were engaged in agricultural work. At the same time, the proportion of woman-headed households continues to grow, reaching almost one third in some developing countries.
Despite the essential economic and caregiving roles that they perform, women have significantly less access to financial, physical and social assets than men do; fewer opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills; and less voice in public decision-making.
Women own less than 2 per cent of all land, and receive only 5 per cent of extension services worldwide. It is estimated that women in Africa receive less than 10 per cent of all credit going to small farmers and a mere 1 per cent of the total credit going to the agricultural sector. The most extreme manifestation of gender inequality and the disregard of women’s human rights is the fact that at least 60 million girls are ‘missing’, mostly in Asia, due to female infanticide or sex-selective abortions. Added to these are an estimated 5,000 women murdered each year in ‘honour killings’.
According to the World Food Programme, 870 million people do not have enough food to eat, of which 98% live in developing countries. Of these, more than 60% of are women. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the UN, observed that poverty has a woman’s face. This was further buttressed by a woman who was asked by IBIS Ghana about what she understood by poverty. The only answer she could give was “Poverty means woman; the face of poverty is woman.”
Only 30% of major companies in the EU are chaired by women and a Forbes publication about the most powerful ten people in the world only included one woman. Five of the 50 richest people in the world are women.
In Ghana, there are no women in the list of richest people and out of 275 legislators, fewer than 30% of them are women. Poverty has a woman’s face, in Ghana and across the globe.