Feminization of Poverty

Madagascan female migrants enjoy a rare day off. Beirut, Lebanon

Soaring food prices coupled with massive land grabs have widened the gender gap between those trapped in poverty, resulting in the feminization of poverty. Women who constitute the majority of the world's poor face greater risks during times of global crisis forcing many to migrate out.

"In terms of the number of people going hungry today, more than 60% are women and girls and the situation of global hunger always has a gender characteristic to it. That means that the most vulnerable people in society are always going to be in the front line," journalist, activist and former policy analyst with the advocacy group Food First, Raj Patel told Her Blueprint.

"When there are already burdens of caring for the elderly, kids, the sick, carrying water and locating fuel coupled with the costs of finding food at higher costs with less money to go around and increased demands to find sources of income, women are structurally in a much harder position to make ends meet."

Right now, the global population is struggling to feed itself, with more than 800 million people lacking adequate food; 1.3 billion living on less than $1 per day and world population figures expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts the pace of food inflation has surpassed 2008 levels and will rise another four percent this year. Basically if you are poor, now is a particularly precarious time with a twenty-five percent jump in global food costs in 2010 and most countries shelling out nearly $1 trillion on imports in comparison to a twenty percent spike for poorer nations in 2009.

However, women -- who have less access to food, water, health care, land ownership, basic rights, and education to better their living conditions -- are more vulnerable before any global crisis due to their status before disaster hits.

Recent statistics indicate that women account for seventy percent of the world's poor. They work two-thirds of the world's working hours, but earn only ten percent of the income and own one percent of the world's property.

During the 1960's, women accounted for nearly forty-five percent of the total migration -- mainly for reunification purposes with their spouses who were already employed abroad. Today, the global financial crisis has forced millions in developing countries into poverty. Resulting in the share of women migrating for employment to increase from 35.3 million in 1960 to 94.5 million in 2005.

Massive land grabs in some African countries, forcing those that would be growing food to feed their families off their lands and into urban areas that are unable to sustain them economically, has resulted in large numbers of migrants getting onto rickety boats and risking their lives to try and migrate out.

“Many people in Madagascar are living in poverty,” said Aimee, who is a self-proclaimed social worker in Lebanon, in an interview with Her Blueprint. “Every day applications are being processed for female migrants seeking work abroad.”

The beauty of migration is that, at the household level, it allows for the individual transaction of remittances because earnings go back to the people who need it the most -- the family.

Stable economies like Libya were a hub for migrant from African countries, Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies based in Washington told Her Blueprint. Migrants headed out because they were unable to withstand the global recession, climate change huge increases in food prices and staple goods back home.

“Remittances are this sleeping giant in terms of development finance that has awakened. They create a financial tie between people and their communities by helping to build clinics, schools, roads and other infrastructure development projects,” says Woods.

“There are some efforts to harness more the strategic resources from remittances, which have created a space for governments to act independent of external actors like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) whose interest and loan conditions have failed to serve the needs of Africa.”

According to a World Economic Forum report titled, 'The Global Gender Gap Report 2009,' there is no country where women and men existed equally and concluded that systematic gender discrimination in developing countries must be halted in order for significant economic recovery and growth to occur.

Creating labour policies that protect female migrants and empowering women in their home countries by harnessing the power of remittances to provide decent work will not only fuel economies but lead the world on a path to eradicating poverty and hunger.