|Published on: Feb 16, 2007|
Poverty has been identified as a major obstacle to realization of women’s human rights and one of the most surreptitious forms of violation of a woman’s rights. Not surprising it came on top of the list of twelve critical areas of concern for the women of the world adopted at the fourth world conference on women held in Beijing, China. It was estimated in the Beijing Declaration that more than one billion people in the world today, the great majority (about 70%) of who are women, live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, mostly in development countries. Although, there is need to question statistics here particularly in the absence of reliable indicator of the extent to which women are over-represented among the population with incomes below the poverty line. None of the indicators commonly used to track incidence and severity of income poverty are gender sensitive. While poverty affects households as a whole, because of gender division of labour and responsibilities for household welfare, women bear a disproportionate burden, attempting to manage households’ consumption and production under conditions of increasing scarcity. Poverty is particularly acute for women living in rural households. The poverty trend in Nigeria as shown by the Federal office of Statistics is not based on gender disaggregated data. According to official Nigerian source the incidence of poverty increased from 28.1 percent in 1980 to 46.3 percent in 1985, declined to 42.7percent in 1992 and increased to 65.6 percent in 1996. In absolute terms, the populations in poverty were 18.26million, 34.7 million and 67.1 million in 1980, 1985 and 1996 respectively. The Human Development Report 2002 placed the number of people living in less than a dollar in sub-Saharan African at 300 million in 1999 a global share percent of 46.7%. According to the report” The declining share of people in extreme poverty is hopeful, but the level remains disturbingly high. And failure to reduce poverty in Sub Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region, is a grave concern”. In fact, Sub Saharan ended the millennium 5% poorer than in 1990. In terms of income poverty Nigeria ranked 58 out of 88 developing countries. About, 70.2 per cent of the Nigerian population according to that report lives on an income of $1(one US dollar) a day that is below the poverty line and the Human Development Index Ranking places Nigeria in 148 position out of 173 countries of the world ranked in its 2000 report. The only consolation in terms of progress towards Millennium Development Goal 1 to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger is that Nigeria from that report has halved the proportion of people suffering from hunger. However, when one considers this Vis a Vis other indicators of poverty, for example, the rate of under 5 and infant mortality, life expectancy and also maternal mortality then there is no cause for celebration. The life expectancy is 51.7% while under 5 mortality rates is 184 per 1000 live births There is no record of maternal mortality in that report but national statistics show that maternal deaths represent approximately 23 per cent of all deaths to women age 15- 49 years. However, the data from the same survey estimating the maternal mortality ratio to be 289 per 100,000 live births is suspect. Thus, the generally accepted ratio is 600 per 100,000 live births.
Who is Poor and Meaning of Poverty?
Although, there is no conceptual clarity as to the definition of who is poor and meaning of poverty, there is a nuance understanding of poverty particularly from the perspectives of people living in poverty. I would like to define a “poor” person as one who is in need or in want and has less than is necessary for survival and development. Such a person lives a substandard life, often miserable and hapless owing to uncertainties about procuring basic needs for survival or existence on this planet earth. Due to insufficiency of means providing means of livelihood is hardship for such a person described as poor. On the other hand “poverty” could be defined as a “state of lacking adequate food or money” and living from “ hand- to – mouth existence”.
A state of poverty is characterized by food insecurity, lack of portable water, inadequate access to modern health facilities, inadequate access to education, feeder roads etc. Therefore a state of being poor is state of powerlessness, insecurity and uncertainties. The poor is the marginalized-living at the margin of subsistence on less than one USD ($1) a day. It is important to note that poverty can be used in relative terms and just as an individual man or woman can said to be poor a country can be described as a poor nation. Nigeria fall within the developing countries of the south and located in the Sub Saharan described as the poorest region of the world. Indicators have been developed for measuring the level of poverty or the population of the poor in a particular country. Human development index includes: Life expectancy at birth, Adult literacy rate, combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrollment ratio, GDP per capita, population not using improved water sources, long term unemployment, population below income poverty line, population with access to essential drugs, health expenditure, under 5 and infant mortality rate as well as maternal mortality ratio. When Nigeria was ranked using these aforementioned indicators it came 148 out of 173 countries with high population below income poverty line. Even though, Nigeria GDP has not fall it has been a case of economic growth without poverty reduction. As noted in the Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration: Poverty has various manifestations, including lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure a sustainable livelihood; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increasing morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments; and social discrimination and exclusion. Furthermore, Poverty is characterized by lack of participation in decision making and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries- as mass poverty in many developing countries and as pockets of poverty amidst wealth in developed countries. Poverty may be caused by an economic recession that results in loss of livelihood or by disaster or conflict. There is also poverty of low- wage workers and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support systems, social institutions and safety nets.
Gendered Nature of Poverty
The increasing feminizing of poverty has led many to the conclusion that poverty is indeed gendered and has assumed a woman’s face. The UNDP Human Development Report in 1995 observed, “ Poverty has a woman’s face – of 1.3 billion people living in poverty, 70% are women. The increasing poverty of women has been linked to their unequal situation in the labour market, their treatment under social welfare systems and their status and power in the family”.
The category women have been described as the poorest of the poor and more susceptible to poverty owing to a number of factors we shall address in the next section. While there is still lack of comprehensive research to confirm that majority of poor Nigerians are women, some indicators have been used to evidence that women and men experience poverty differently, and many aspects of poverty (such as deprivation, powerlessness, vulnerability, seasonality) impact differently on males and females. Several indicators were used by the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper to confirm disparities in poverty between males and females. In 1996, the literacy rate for males was 62 percent and 39 per cent for females; the corresponding figures for 1997 were 61 percent and 47 per cent respectively, and 61 percent and 46 percent, respectively in 1998. In addition the average net primary enrollment in 1996 was 55 percent for boys and 45 percent for girls, with 57 percent for boys and 44 percent for girls in 1997. Similarly, post primary enrollment in 1996 was 53 percent for boys and 47 percent for girls. In the area of health, maternal mortality rate has hovered around 600 per 100,000 live births within the last decade. Gender ascribed roles in addition to economic recession has exacerbated women’s poverty and constrained their access to power, education, training and productive resources. In Nigeria, majority of the population lives in the rural area and it’s estimated that more women and children live in the rural area. Given that fact and in view of the disparities in social infrastructures between urban and rural areas one may conclude that the rural women are more vulnerable lacking access to education, health, safe water and sanitation. The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in recognition of the vulnerable position of rural women to poverty urged State Parties to take into account particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non- monetized sectors of the economy. It places an obligation on State Parties to take appropriate action to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right to adequate health, education and training; adequate living conditions, particularly in housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications. It further, enjoins them to ensure that rural women have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes. The extents to which Nigeria a State Party to this Convention will implement this provision to reduce women’s poverty remain to be seen. It is pertinent to observe that within the category of poor women some women are regarded as particularly vulnerable. These include female headed households, widows, single mothers, pregnant mothers, mothers with only female children and segregated groups in societies such as outcast and persons dedicated to shrines. Others are elderly women, childless women, inhabitants of rural areas and persons affected or displaced by wars, civil strife, natural disasters and environment degradation
Causes of Women’s Poverty
Poverty has many causes, including structural ones. Poverty is a multidimensional problem, with origins in both national and international domains. The Internationalization seen in globalization processes of the world economy today has deepened the gap between the rich and the poor people within nations and in international community, between the rich North and the Poor Countries of the South. In general, women’s poverty can be attributed to the absence of economic opportunities and autonomy, lack of access to economic resources, including credit, land ownership and inheritance, lack of access to education and support services and their minimal participation in the decision- making process. Specifically within the Nigerian context, I have listed for discussion the following 11 points in no particular order as causes of women’s poverty.
1. Low education
2. Unequal access to Education
3. Early Marriage
4. Female Headed Households
6. Internal Conflicts
7. Structural and Systemic Discrimination
8. Legal Environment
9. Structural Adjustment programmes
10. Rural/Urban Divide
11. State Failure/ Lack of coherent government policies mainstreaming gender
From Rhetoric to Action
The Time for change has come; the time to move away from rhetoric to action has indeed come. The changing tide began with both the world Social Summit in 1995 and the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women also held in 1995. While the women conference focused on gender specific causes of poverty and strategies to addressing them, the Social Summit firmly called on governments in developing countries to take necessary steps to develop specific anti- poverty strategies based on enhanced participation of all stakeholders. Following this call Nigeria, government commenced the drafting of its own Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) amidst pressure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to whom Nigeria is heavily indebted that future concessional assistance would be tied to the preparation of an appropriate PRSP by individual countries, and a deadline of June 2002. Despite the time frame Nigeria still has not produced a final PRSP document. As at November 7- 8th November, the Office of the Vice President was still consulting with Civil Society based on the Interim PRSP. Before, this PRSP exercise intended to ensure that official policies and resource including bilateral external debt relief and concessional assistance from the Bretton Wood Institutions are geared towards poverty reduction, Nigeria has grappled with programmes intended either for Poverty Alleviation or Poverty Eradication and/ or Reduction. We are still dabbling with terminology and in search of the right language while poverty continue to ravage the Nigerian citizenry. Nigeria is not in want of initiatives to either alleviate or eradicate poverty in fact; the government on the past17 years has taken a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging poverty reduction. The programmes ranges from the Better Life for Rural Women: National Directorate of Employment (NDE); Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI), the Family Support Programme (FSP); the Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP); Poverty Alleviation (PAP); National Poverty Eradication Programme (NPEP); the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP); and the Artisan Fishery and small ruminant production schemes amongst others. The Educational and Health Sector have their own initiatives on Adult and Nomadic education and also Primary health care. Like I noted earlier Nigeria is nit lacking in ideas but what is needed is commitment and leadership and economic will to vigorously pursue policy initiatives undertaken. Anti- poverty programmes such as Better Life Program or the Poverty Alleviation Programme cannot per se achieve eradication of Poverty. What is needed is structural change in economic sphere to ensure women access to resources, opportunities and public services. For, Example, in the on going privatization of major government corporations how many women will buy shares in these corporations? If leadership does not make genuine efforts and authorities concerned with policy implementation, the same unjust and unequal economic structure will be perpetuated where women and other poor people gets nothing.
Again, non -participation of women in formulation of macro-economic and social policies and strategies for poverty reduction has undermined successful implementation and sustainability of any programme initiatives in this regard. In other words, successful implementation of any anti- poverty reduction programme will require democratic participation. Women and men must participate fully and equally in the process of formulation and review of policies geared towards poverty eradication. In adequate mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all economic analysis and planning to address the structural causes of poverty has contributed to failure of some of these governments initiatives. Another problem is incoherence in government on poverty and gap between policy and action. Thus, the work of National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) in reality not matching with the policy document of PRSP leaves doubt about government initiated poverty programmes in general and prospects for success.
In terms of strategies we need to take into account the above mentioned in particular to empower women as an autonomous being enjoying equal rights with their male counterpart. Education and training is key to empowerment and release of women’s production potential. Therefore, giving women access to decision- making and economic resources, including credit facilities, land ownership and inheritance. Women are the closest to environment and we need to empower them to utilize environmental resources for their benefits.
Gender Budget Initiatives (GDI): This is an increasingly popular tool recommended by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It called for the integration of gender perspective in budgetary decisions on policies and programmes.
GDI is used to monitor the impact of fiscal policy on women and men in holding governments accountable for their budget. There is some initiative in this direction in Nigeria by CDD, Shelter Rights and UNIFEM towards genderizing national and State budgets. We need to vigorously pursue this and ensure active involvement of NLC and other Women’s groups for effective accountability of governments and businesses to women.
There is need for the Gender Sensitive Budget Initiative to run concurrently with women’s empowerment programme.
The Beijing Declaration adopted four major strategic objectives to address poverty of women worldwide and I consider them relevant within the Nigeria context, hence its tabulation here. It places tripartite obligations on governments, financial institutions, bilateral development cooperation and National and International NGOs and Women’s groups.
• To Review, adopt and maintain macroeconomic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty.
• To Review laws and administrative practices to ensure women’s equal rights and access to economic resources.
• To provide women with access to savings and credit mechanisms and institutions.
• To develop gender-based methodologies and conduct research to address the feminizing of poverty.