By Nadil Shah*
Poverty is an obstacle for each country in the world and it has victimized most of the population in the globe but intensity of poverty varies from society to society, group to group such as some are in relative poverty and some are in extreme poverty. It depends on the natural resources, human capital, equal opportunities and equal distribution of the sources. It is widely believed that poverty usually affects the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in the society. Most importantly, poverty occurs among poor segments of society. Similarly, women are most vulnerable group who are affected by poverty. The proliferation of female headed families, domestic works for women, studies on socio-economic impact of women, policies and laws since 1960s dragged the attention of the people toward study of ‘feminization of poverty’. According to UNDP report, the 70% poor population are women in world. Feminization of poverty is very common among South Asian countries. One third of the women are victim of poverty in South Asia.
South Asia includes Afghanistan, Bhutan, Seri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Maldives. The political, social and economic conditions of women are almost same in all these countries. Most the of women are laid under poverty line. According to World Economic Forum Report, South Asian Region is the second number in terms of Global Gender Gap Index in 2018. WEF has shown factors include women stagnation in workplaces, declining political representation, discrimination in education and health. Women in this region are greatly effected due to multidimensional poverty and unequal treatment. The egalitarianism is a dream for each woman in this region. They are lagging behind in all kind of social, economic, and political empowerment. They are systematically made deprived from all facilities as well as national resources due to misogynist mindset toward women. Such mindsets about gender differences have created many problems for women in their daily lives activities. They are usually treated as second number citizens in South Asian countries.
Moreover, feminization of poverty is became a prominent discourse among South Asian academic culture because women have less equal opportunities in terms of resources, jobs, education, politics, health and media. This discriminatory approach has severely disturbed the economic status of women in the region. As Karl Marx believed that economics determine the superstructure such as religion, education, politics, media and health in the society. Similarly, economics also determine the social structure and social relations between women and men in the society. Men have command on all resources due to which they became the oppressor and women are oppressed. Though women are regularly fighting for their equal rights, freedom and empowerment but their voices are usually suppressed and diverted in the name of family honor, social norms and other social stigmatized patterns in South Asian countries. Lacking power of making decisions is persisting feminization of poverty among women in the region.
Power of decision and authority of making laws are concerned with men in South Asia. They manipulate laws and policies by safeguarding their interests and undermine the interest of women. Due to unequal social legalization deprived women from their due human basic rights. Though human rights are universal and each individual should get them at any cost, women are made systematically deprived from their due rights. These biased policies, laws and social relations have augmented the rate of poverty among South Asian women.
There are three main factors which are greatly contributing in feminization of poverty and discussed in women in development and gender-and-development (WID/GAD) in South Asia. These factors include neoliberal economic policies, growth of female headed household and intra-household inequalities and biased against females. Furthermore, the under representation in political arenas, misrepresentation in children school textbooks, traditional roles and stereotyping have increased the intensity of poverty among women in South Asia.
Very few women get chance to participate in political sphere and they contest elections but their voices are suppressed by powerful and patriarchal structure. They cannot participate in political struggle because the social structure of society is totally male oriented. If a woman wants to participate in political arena, she will have to face many problems such as harassment by party members themselves, stigmatize by society and pressures from social institutions.
Patriarchal mindset and traditional stereotyping is also promoted the poverty among women in South Asian countries. Women are considered to be in private spheres such as home and do the domestic works which are unpaid and less lucrative. They are discriminated in jobs sectors as well as education because they are believed to be housewives. It is estimated that there are only 28 percent of women have jobs compare to 79 percent of men in South Asia. This mindset has triggered the poverty among South Asian women.
As German Sociologist, Max Weber said that social position of a person is determined by 3Ps (Power, Prestige and property) .Women are never given equal opportunities in jobs, education and political representation in South Asia due to which they have less political, social and economic prestige, power and property in the society. They do not have property rights and educational rights. According to The World Bank Report, near half of the adult girls are illiterate in south Asia.
Within South Asia, the gender gap is very high in Pakistan. Recent report by World Economic Forum, showed that Pakistan is ranked 146 in terms of economic participation, 145 in health and survival, 97 in political empowerment in terms of gender gap and It closes the gender gap 55 percent.
Hence, less education level of woman leads to gender inequality in all sectors such a parity in pay and position, jobs, political involvement, decision making, laws and policies. Lack of these all, she cannot fully contribute for the betterment and development of society as a productive member in the society.
*Nadil Shah is M.Phil. Scholar at Department of Sociology, University of Karachi, and DRI Human Rights Research Fellow at National Commission for Human Rights, Pakistan. His field of interest are Gender, Education and Culture.