Editor's Choice: International Development Planning Review 38.1
The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected Sylvia Chant's 'Women, Girls and World Poverty: Equality, Empowerment or Essentialism' as the choice paper for issue 38.1. It will be open access for three months.
Can the targeting of women and girls in anti-poverty interventions not only provide them with a pathway out of poverty, but also promote gender equality and female empowerment in developing countries? Accomplishing these multiple, and apparently seamless, objectives certainly appears to be the professed aim of an increasing number of female-oriented poverty reduction initiatives designed by governments, international agencies, NGOs, and charitable foundations associated with the corporate sector. However, the undoubtedly worthy intention of transforming gender through helping women and girls to exit poverty is often thwarted by a failure to grasp the multidimensional nature of privation, and to recognise that charging women and girls to become the ‘duty bearers’ for alleviating their own poverty (not to mention that of their households) can actually entrench gendered stereotypes and perpetuate inequality. In this article, Professor Sylvia Chant critically reviews the potential of three main types of policy initiatives – conditional cash transfers (CCTs), microfinance schemes, and ‘investing in girls’ – to make an appreciable difference to women’s and girls’ lives in the Global South.
Professor Chant’s introduction to the paper questions the validity of the construct of a ‘feminisation of poverty, which became something of a ‘global orthodoxy’ at the Fourth World Conference for Women in 1995 and which gave rise, in the resultant Beijing Platform for Action, to prioritise the ‘persistent and rising burden of poverty on women’. While there is considerable evidence that poverty often disproportionately affects women and girls, has there been too much emphasis on income poverty at the expense of other forms of privation, for example, in terms of time, assets, responsibilities and obligations, which tend to be glossed over when policy-makers seek to redress the ‘feminisation of poverty’ through the ‘feminisation’ of anti-poverty programmes?
In the body of her review, Professor Chant raises qualms about how essentialised ideas about gender have worked their way into relying upon women and girls to address the challenge of poverty in the Global South.
Concluding that ‘there is little convincing evidence to suggest that the goals of “female empowerment” and gender equality are by any means assured by dragooning women and girls into efforts to solve world poverty’, Professor Chant suggests, in line with the spirit of the post-2015 agenda, that the engagement of men and boys, and other key players in the global economy, are vital to putting a stop to a situation whereby obligations fall even more heavily on a disadvantaged constituency.
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