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Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Positions - Networks - Results


Chapter III

The Twelve Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action: A Women´s Agenda for the Twenty-first Century

1. Women and poverty: the feminization of poverty
Analysis

More than 1 billion people, the majority of them women, live in "unspeakable poverty", mainly in developing countries. In the last ten years, since the World Conference on Women in Nairobi, the number of women living in poverty has increased disproportionately. In the Eastern European countries with economies in transition, poverty among women has also become a significant problem in the political, economic and social processes of transformation. Apart from economic factors, the rigidity of socially ascribed gender roles are to blame for "this feminization of poverty". Globally speaking, the limited access of women to education, vocational training, power and productive resources - including credit, land ownership and inheritance - is the most formidable barrier against change.

Poverty among women increased since Nairobi

Poverty among women is not limited to individual groups of countries, it is increasing in all countries in various ways and to various degrees: as mass poverty in many developing countries and as individual pockets of poverty amidst wealth in developed countries.

Poverty among women is increasing world-wide

The Platform lists lack of income, hunger and malnutrition, ill health and illness, lack of education, homelessness and inadquate housing, an unsafe environment, social and cultural discrimination and exclusion as manifestations of poverty. Poverty also manifests itself by lack of participation in political decision-making processes. All types of conflict, displacement of people and environmental degradation undermine the capacity of Governments to meet the basic needs of their populations. The uncertain global economic climate, economic restructuring, unmanageable levels of external debt and structural adjustment programmes create risks and insecurities for the future world-wide.

Poverty has many faces

The Platform attributes poverty among women to the structures existing at the state and international levels. "The failure... to address the structural causes of poverty" is quoted as a contributing factor. The risk of falling into poverty is greater for women than for men, particularly in old age.

Poverty has structural causes

In the developed countries, women have become much more threatened and affected by unemployment than men as a result of the economic development of the last decade, even if the level of general and vocational education is similar for women and they are formally protected against discrimination. Women are exposed much more to poverty as a result of unemployment than men are. Women in the Eastern European reform countries have been particularly hit by this development. Poverty also increases the risk for women of becoming the victims of sexual exploitation.

Women lose their jobs faster

Sustainable development and economic growth are possible only through "improving the economic, social, political, legal and cultural status of women". The release of women´s productive potential, in particular in the developing countries, is pivotal to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Sustainable development requires women´s productive potential

Gender-specific differences in the distribution of economic power are a barrier on this road and deepen the poverty gap between the sexes.
The eradication of poverty cannot be accomplished through anti-poverty programmes alone. It is democratic participation and changes in economic structures that are more important in order to ensure access for all women to resources, opportunities and public services: "The empowerment of women is a critical factor in the eradication of poverty".

Empowerment helps to relieve poverty

Strategies and actions to be taken

Under four strategic objectives the Platform lists 45 actions to be taken by various agents - Governments, multilateral financial and development institutions, bilateral development cooperation, national and international organizations and women´s groups - to address the problem of poverty. In order to realize the objectives of the Platform, all agents involved must support the needs and efforts of women in poverty. Further strategic objectives mentioned by the Platform are:

  • to revise laws and administrative practices so as to ensure women´s equal rights and access to economic resources;
  • to provide women with easier access to savings and credit institutions;
  • to allocate more resources to research about the feminization of poverty.

Eradication of feminine poverty requires a change in political orientation and new development strategies

The Governments are called upon to analyse the impact of their policies on women´s poverty, with the full and equal participation of women. Research is to be conducted, from a gender perspective, into the effects of external debt problems, taxation, investments, employment and the impact of structural adjustment programmes among other things.

Policy analysis with, and in the interest of, women

In the framework of a people-centred policy, the Platform for Action calls upon Governments to eliminate the structural causes of poverty. In order to promote women´s economic opportunities and their equal access to productive resources, the allocation of public expenditures should be targeted and restructured if already assigned. Economic policies should be designed in a way that encourages women´s employment and income in both the formal and informal sector.

Eliminate structural poverty

Specific measures should be adopted to address women´s unemployment, in particular long-term unemployment; female-headed households should be given special support. Women require Government assistance in obtaining affordable housing. Obstacles to access to land must be removed.

More efforts to eliminate unemployment and housing problems

In the interest of women agricultural and fisheries producers, the Platform for Action calls upon Governments to give women better technical and financial access to extension and marketing services and to encourage "the development of producer-owned, market-based cooperatives".
Special attention is paid to indigenous women in the Platform: it commits Governments to create opportunities for them in order to eradicate the poverty that affects them.

Encourage cooperatives

Addressed to the World Bank, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and regional development institutions, the Platform for Action demands gender-sensitive social impact assessment methods. Structural adjustment programmes must be designed to "minimize their negative effects". Development-policy institutions and the NGOs in development assistance are called upon to consider particularly the gender-specific impact of structural adjustment and rehabilitation programmes.

Social impact assessment for structural adjustment programmes

The Platform calls upon Governments to implement consistently the commitments made at the Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in March ´95 and to allocate more resources for eliminating poverty among women.

Implement commitments made in Copenhagen

The Governments reaffirmed their commitment in Beijing to search for "effective development-oriented and durable solutions to external debt problems" in order to re-allocate resources in programmes targeted at development and at the advancement of women. The Platform documents the realization that there are no adequate techniques of debt conversion applied to social development programmes and projects in conformity with the priorities of the Platform for Action.
The NGOs and above all the national and international women´s organizations are called upon to do everything in their power to ensure implementation of the recommendations, demands and agreements on poverty eradication. They should engage in lobbying in order to create publicity and control and to demand accountability from the State for its activities. This applies in particular to two central demands for poverty eradication: women´s equal right to inheritance and their free access to resources and services. The Platform entrusts the realization of these demands to the NGOs.

Women´s organizations are a recognized lobby for poverty eradication

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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola | Oktober 1997