INSTITUTIONAL ANALYSIS OF GENDER AND POVERTY - ITS IMPLICATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE

Dr. Alok Chantia* & Dr. Preeti Misra†
In the past de cad e the number o f women living in pov erty has increas ed disproportion ately to the number of men, particularly in the de velo ping countries. While poverty affects house holds a s a whole, be caus e o f the gend er di vision of labor and respo nsibilities for hous ehold welfare, women bear a disproportionate burden, attempting to man-age household consumption and production under conditions of incr easing scarcity. — Beijing Platform for Action, 1995 Abstract: Man-made culture and for the very first time work differentiation was created between man and woman according to their physiology. In the very beginning of civilization (enhance part of culture) man was dependent on nature and he used nature for his protection and smooth survival. Barter system continued till the advent of money. Transactions in terms o f money led to concentration of power in the hands of man. Gender and poverty is closely related. Many factors come in light when we analyse poverty and gender in socio -cultural setup. Mor e than 1 billion peopl e in the world toda y, al most half of them wo m en, live in unacceptabl e co nditions of pov erty, mostly in the dev eloping co untries. Pov erty h as various causes, including structural ones. Pov erty is a co m plex, multidi mension al proble m, with origins in both the national and international domains. Globalization of the world’s economy and the deepening interdepend enc e a mong nations present challenges and opportunities for sustained e con o mic gro wth and development , as well as risks and unc ertainties for th e future of the world economy. Key Words: Poverty, Gender, Good Governance.

Introduction: This paper concentrates on current thinking on the theoretical and empirical relationships between gender inequality and poverty, including reflection on how these relationships have been articulated in development policy discourse. It goes on to examine the potential for governance structures and processes, as currently defined, to promote poverty reduction in a way which recognises and responds to women‟s gendered experience of poverty. It analyses how the governance agenda needs to be reconstituted if it is to succeed in addressing women‟s gender specific needs and interests. Finally, the paper highlights some strategic entry points in the governance agenda which provide opportunities for promoting poor women‟s gender interests. In the early 1950s, nearly half of India‟s population was living in poverty. Since then, pove rty has been declining, though slowly, and today vast disparitie s between and within India‟s 28 state s persist. India continues to have the highest concentration of poverty of any country, accounting for almost one third of those with an income of less than one dollar a day. More than 360 million people —about 36 percent of the population—live below the official poverty line; seventy-five percent of these live in the rural areas. It is estimate d that wome n and childre n account for 73 percent of those below the poverty line. At the same time, the ratio of females to male s in India is 933:1,000. Increase d female labor force participation, particularly among the lowest-income households, is the single most important coping strategy of poor households. This trend makes female -headed households and poor wome n in genera l a distinc t poverty group (Barrett and Beardmore, 2000). Even while we say that 36 percent of the people are below the poverty line, it must be remembered that identification of persons on the basis of a narrow definition of poverty base d only on income, in a population that works predominantly outside the forma l sector, is problematic. For instance , where income fluctuate s from day to day, as it does for a vast majority of the Indian population, a single static poverty line is an inappropriate indicator of vulnerability. Anothe r important problem in identifying the poor in India using the official poverty line is that the line is define d at an absolutely low level of income , corresponding to the expenditure
* †

Assistant Professor, J.N.P.G. College Lucknow, INDIA. Assistant Professor, School for Legal Studies, B abasaheb Bhi mrao Ambedkar Uni versity Lucknow, INDIA.

s of the First Asia and Pacific Forum on Poverty (Volume 1)

The Legal Analyst ISSN: 2231-5594 Volume 1, 2011, pp. 15-20

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require d to purchase a minimum of calories. It is in no way an indicator of purchasing power to provide for a minimum decent standard of living. Gender is centra l to how societies assign roles, responsibilities, resources, and rights between wome n and men. Allocation, distribution, utilization, and control of resources are thus incumbent upon gender relations embedde d in both ideology and practice . Gender analyses do not merely focus on women, but also look at the ways in whic h men and women interact with each other and the gendere d nature of their roles, relations, and control over resources. Unfortunately, eve n toda y in most parts of the world there exist gende r biases that disadvantage women. Therefore, it is sometimes inevitable that gender justice becomes synonymous with the rights of women and any discussion on gender and poverty in essence become s a discussion on women and poverty. This is because, as with all other issues, women and men experience poverty in different ways. If we accept the definition of poverty as the denia l of choices and opportunities for a better life, then feminization of poverty is less a question of whether more men than women are poor than of the severity of poverty and the greater hardship women face in lifting them-selves and their children out of poverty. The wide range of biases in society—among them unequa l opportunities in education, employment, and asset ownership—mea n that women have fewer opportunities. Poverty accentuates gende r gaps, and whe n adversity strikes, it is wome n who often are most vulnerable (UNDP, 1997). This increased vulnerability is most visible in cases of disaste r, conflict, or involunta ry resettlement. Despite these generalities, it is important to recognize that wome n are not a homogeneous group, nor is the concept of gender static. Gender varies across cultural, geographical, and historica l contexts. Wo me n are l iv i n g i n t ri ba l, R u ra l an d u rba n e n v ir o n men t , s o i t is n o t an ea s y ta s k t o e xa mi ne p o ver t y in o ne par ame te r. It is contingent upon factors such as age, class, and tribe. Also, the position of women in society is not static. It shifts in response to and also affects the economic , social, political, cultural, and environmenta l situation of the community. This diversity is often visible in intergenerationa l differences: processes of globalization have increased the pace of change to such an extent that significant changes are now being felt from one generation to the next. Starting with discrimination against the girl-child, even before she is born, the life of the average Indian woma n is one of deprivation in every sphere. The overall status of women in an Indian family is lower than that of men. The girl-child gets less nutrition, health care, and education: a lesser childhood than the boy-child. She become s a woman while still young, often missing out on adolescence and moving into early motherhood— quickly, and ofte n at a young age. She has no say in any of these crucial events of her life, although they adversely affect her growth and development. Culturally girl‟s brought up makes her more different from men, she is not only ignored but also she does not like make food for herself if kids or males are not in home. This condition shows her nurturing which might be seen under the frame of poverty. Intrahousehold inequalities and discrimination therefore determine the status of women and the “extent of poverty” in whic h wome n live. In addition, the socioeconomic status of the woma n‟s family and community also determine her vulnerability in the larger society. For example, in tribal societies in India that have a very high incidence of income poverty, wome n enjoy higher socia l status than their counterpa rts in other socia l groups. However, because of the overall socioeconomic position of tribal groups in the large r society, they become more vulnerable to discrimination and violence perpetrate d by those belonging to other groups, especially nontribal groups. This vulnerability is examine d in some detail later in the paper. Another factor affecting the status of wome n in India is their region of origin, i.e., the place whe re they are born. Two girls born in similar low-income -poverty families in Kerala and Bihar are likely to enjoy different life opportunities in terms of access to nutrition or education. The root of gende r inequality, reflecte d in the highe r incidence of poverty among women in India, is socia l and economic , not constitutional. The Constitution is firmly grounde d in principles of libe rty, fraternity, equality, and justice. Wome n‟s rights to equality and freedom from discrimination are defined as justifiable fundamental rights. The Constitution explicitly clarifies that affirmative action programs for women are not incompatible with the principle of nondiscrimination on grounds of sex. “The Constitution does not merely pay lip service to an abstract notion of equality. It reflects a substantive understanding of practical dimensions of freedom and equality for wome n” (Menon, Sen and Kuma r, 2001). Howeve r, implementations of constitutiona l provisions

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that are meant to empower wome n are often implemente d by persons from the very socioeconomic backgrounds that perpetuate the inequity and ultimately poverty among them. Income, Poverty and Gender Inequality: Conventional approaches to poverty definition and measurement based on income- consumption measures have been widely criticised for failing to capture human development outcomes (Sen, 1983; 1990; UNDP, 1997). The use of the household as the unit of analysis in poverty measurement has also been the subject of much criticism from gender advocates. At household level, income and consumption-based measures do not provide a good predictor of women‟s well-being because of intrahousehold inequalities in resource distribution and other institutional biases. Gender inequality is not necessarily strongly correlated with household poverty. It is possible for women to be deprived in rich households and also for increases in household incomes to results in greater gender inequality in well-being (Kabeer, 1996; Jackson, 1996). Gender inequality and poverty, then, are the result of distinct though interlocking, social relations and processes. Women‟s experience of poverty is mediated by social relations of gender. This implies that it is only by looking at context that we can deduce whether social relations of gender act to exacerbate or relieve scarcity (Kabeer, 1996; 1997). Human Poverty and Gender Inequality: Given the unreliability of household income based measures as a guide to women‟s as well as men‟s, well-being, a broader approach is required this looks at poverty in terms of ends as well as means. The entitlements and capabilities framework of Amartya Sen provides a way forward here, stressing as it does the whole range of means, not just income, available to achieve human capabilities (i.e. different bundles of functioning or „beings‟ and „doings‟) (Sen, 1990). These might include „intangibles‟ such as personal security and community participation as well as basic functioning such as literacy, longevity and access to income, as captured in the Human Development Index (HDI) (UNDP, 1997). In Sen‟s framework, well being in the form of choice over capabilities is achieved through a combination of entitlements (marked based exchanges entitlements and other claims) and endowments (assets of various kinds as well as human resources). Poverty and deprivation is thus a result of entitlement failure, rather than scarcity per se. (Sen, op cit.). Implicit in this approach is the idea of human agency to exercise choice over different combinations of capabilities. UNDP‟s 1997 adoption of the Human Poverty concept and approach has created a broader understanding of poverty rooted in Sen‟s framework described above, as well as a specific indicator (the Human Poverty Index or HPI) which can monitor and compare experiences of human poverty over time (UNDP, 1997; 1998). It has been argued that the HPI, alongside the HDI and GDI (Gender Development Index), provides the basis for comparing gendered experiences of well-being and deprivation, including within the household (Cagatay, 1998). The HPI does allow us to capture the magnitude of differences in actual well-being between men and women. However, it also implicitly assumes that men and women experience deprivation in the same ways, and face the same trade-offs. But, for example, lack of access to water has different implications for men than for women. A truly gendered understanding of well-being would need to look at additional factors, particularly issues of time use, or experiences of violence, which are not captured in this index. While useful as a descriptive tool, the HPI is limited in its capacity to analyse the gendered processes through which women and men experience well being or deprivation. Institutional Analysis of Gender and poverty: Gender analysts have developed Sen‟s framework to focus on the institutional rules, norms and unruly practices from which entitlements are derived and specifically the gender biases that these embody. In a given context, the range of entitlements that women can draw on may be circumscribed by rules, norms and practices, which limit their market engagement. For example, these include legal or other restrictions on occupations in which women may work, prevailing ideas about appropriate gender divisions of labour, or husbands‟ prohibitions on wives‟ working. Women may have lesser endowments, for example due to biases in feeding practices, unequal educational investments, or inheritance patterns. They often get lower returns on the endowments they do have, for example, because of gender segregation in the labour market or wage discrimination. And unruly practices often mean that women‟s claims on endowments can be subverted, as, for example,

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when in-laws appropriate property, leaving bereaved or abandoned wives destitute, or when women give up inheritances to brothers, in exchange for hoped for security in old age. The gender bias in institutions, which leads to differential entitlements and capabilities is characterized by more constrained and weaker entitlements; more frequent entitlement failure, or lower returns from translating entitlements and endowments into capabilities; a lesser degree of choice over determining capabilities. The institutional rules, norms and practices governing families are of particular significance in reproducing gender differentials in entitlements and endowments. Women‟s engagement in paid labour, for example, is constrained by their care responsibilities in the home, while women‟s domestic work frees men to engage in market production. Whilst this is by no means the only institutional context through which gender relations operate to determine differential entitlements to women and men, the family is a key site of gender disadvantage which underlies and reinforces (and is reinforced by) institutional biases in the „public‟ sphere. Institutional rules, norms and practices are not externally imposed, immovable constraints, but resources which are constantly drawn on and reconstituted in a variety of organisational settings. Women‟s exclusion from patriarchal decision making structures, itself due to institutional biases, in turn limits their capacity to influence rules, norms and practices which would bring about more gender equitable policies and practices (Kabeer and Murthy 1996). The idea that there is a „feminisation of poverty‟ has become influential in development policy and practice, for example, in the targeting of subsidies or micro-credit at women. But as Cagatay (1998) points out, it has been used to mean three distinct things: 1. Women have a higher incidence of poverty then men; 2. Women‟s poverty is more severe that than of men; 3. There is a trend to greater poverty among women, particularly associated with rising rates of female headship of household. Most measurement of income poverty has focused on the household as the unit of analysis. The evidence for a feminisation of poverty rests heavily on the rising incidence of female-headship of households and the allied suggestion that such households are generally less well-off than their male headed counterparts. Much controversy has ensued, with conflicting results emerging from different studies, in part related to the non-comparability of concepts and methods employed. At the very least, such evidence as does exist casts considerable doubt on any universal association between female headship and poverty. For this reason, many analysts have questioned the utility of female headship as basis for targeting in poverty reduction strategies (Quisumbing et al, 1995; Chant, 1997). A review of the empirical evidence for the association between female headship and poverty highlights both the heterogeneity among this category, such the validity of the concept has itself been questioned, and the dangers of assuming that female headship always represents disadvantage. The processes which lead women to head households are many and in some cases this may represent a positive choice, so that the connotations of powerlessness and victimhood are inappropriate. In female headed households women often have greater autonomy and control over resources. Well-being outcomes for women and children in these households may be better than in male-headed households at the same level of income. This does not mean that it is never appropriate to design interventions to address the problems faced by female heads of household. Certain categories of female headed household (this differs considerably with the context) are disproportionately found among the extremely or chronically impoverished (Baden with Milward, 1995) and therefore are potentially valid targets for anti poverty interventions, providing a careful contextual analysis are carried out. This does not necessarily imply, however, that targeting individuals as recipients of resources (whether transfers or loans) is the best means to tackle poverty and disadvantage among this group. Although women are not always poorer than men, because of the weaker basis of their entitlements, they are generally more vulnerable and, once poor, may have less options in terms of escape (Baden with Milward, 1995). This suggests the need for policy responses to poverty to incorporate a gendered

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understanding of poverty and its causes in order to be effective in addressing women‟s as well as men‟s poverty. It also suggests a need for specific measures which reduce women‟s vulnerability to poverty. Implications for Responses to Gender and Poverty: The „feminisation of poverty‟ idea can be problematic where it informs poverty reduction approaches which target resources at women - in particular microcredit interventions - without attempting to change the underlying „rules of the game‟ (Goetz, 1995). Where women are targeted with resources, it is often assumed that welfare benefits accrue directly to them and also to their children, to a greater extent than resources targeted at men (Buvinic and Gupta, 1997). It has also been argued that where women gain access to external resources, perceptions of their value to the household may change, increasing their bargaining power, and leading to more equitable allocation of resources and decision making power within the household (Sen, 1990). Beyond this, claims have been made, for example, that credit programmes empower women economically, socially and politically, as well as in the context of the family (Hashemi et al, 1996). But it is important to consider how power embedded in gender relations may, in some circumstances, mediate these desired outcomes. It may be that benefits from targeting resources at women are siphoned off by men (Goetz and Sen Gupta, 1994), or that men reduce their levels of contribution to household expenditure as women‟s access to resources increases. Even where women do gain greater access to resources, this may be at the expense of increases in their burden of labour, leaving them exhausted. Where they have control over resources, they may be unable to effectively mobilize these resources to support sustainable livelihoods. Women may feel compelled to invest resources, including their labour, in „family‟ businesses, or in children, identifying their own interests with those of other household members, but thereby leaving themselves vulnerable in the event of family breakdown. As these issues have come to the fore, the limitations of traditional micro-credit programmes in addressing women‟s poverty have been realized. In UNDP‟s South Asian Poverty Alleviation Programme (SAPAP), for example, village development organsiations form the basis for the savings and allocation of loans by groups themselves, including for capacity building and consumption purposes. It has also invested in women‟s leadership and management skills (UNDP, 1998). Concluding Observation: It can be concluded that continued efforts are required to institutionalize gender budgets in government and to revise macroeconomic models and policy frameworks to incorporate gender concerns. However it is equally important to maintain support for initiatives „outside‟ government, and particularly to build links between feminist economic analysis and grass root mobilization of women. More broadly, efforts to increase the transparency and accountability of budgetary processes should be driven by objectives of equity and participation, rather than simply fiscal restraint. In policy dialogue with governments, donors can give far greater prominence to poverty reduction and gender equity concerns. They can also set a much improved redistribution of aid allocation to and within the social sectors. Women should be promoted to take active participation in democratic process of the country. Promoting women in political life (at national or local level) requires attention to building links and dialogue between women inside and outside political structures to build accountability, particularly in periods of legislative change. Equally, support is required to develop the technical and political skills of women representatives to intervene in legislative processes. Besides, reform of electoral system needs to take account of the impact of different voting systems in terms of women‟s participation and representation. Support mechanisms are also needed for women to claim legal entitlements (awareness raising; legal aid; resources for land registration etc.). Research on localised interpretations of customary or personal law may reveal possibilities for increasing women‟s choices. „Test cases‟ may be needed in conflicts between national/ constitutional and customary law over issues of gender equity. Legal aid provision needs to be made via organisations which directly engage poor women (e.g. informal sector unions), in areas related to their work, but also to tackle individual problems experienced in their family or personal life. Mechanisms for support to civil society and NGOs specifically need to include criteria related to strengthening or developing gender accountability. Support to civil society should include encouragement to efforts at networking, association and federation of, e.g., existing small scale credit

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unions or informal sector unions, where low income women are likely to be concentrated. More support should be channeled to NGOs which are active in lobbying and advocacy work on gender (from a propoor perspective), not just those engaged in service delivery with immediate impacts on poverty. This should include support for these organisations to engage in dialogue with government ministries, donors, and others. Lastly, there is a need for encouraging the development of grassroots organisations in areas/ or regions where gender disparities are particularly marked and social indicators poor. However, such efforts need to start from „where women are‟ and build support through long term, sustainable relationships, rather than short term financial support. †††

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