Perpetuating Global Hunger & Poverty
Women represent 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people in our world who live in absolute poverty ~ Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics
Over the last decades, the declared goal of international development policy has been ending chronic poverty and hunger. But both government officials and the press continue to ignore a staggering statistic: women represent 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people in our world who live in absolute poverty. Consequently, as Joan Holmes, President of the Hunger Project, points out, any realistic efforts to change patterns of chronic hunger and poverty require changing traditions of discrimination against women.
This is by no means to say that only women suffer in societies that orient to the domination system. Men also suffer, and this is particularly true of the men at the bottom of the dominator pyramid. Growing up in Cuba, where my parents and I fled from Vienna in 1939, I know the toll poverty takes from men, women, and children. Since my parents had to leave everything they owned behind, we were plunged from a life of comfort in Vienna to living in rancid-smelling ramshackle hotels and boarding houses.
Even after my parents managed to build a successful business in Habana and our lives changed for the better, I still witnessed the suffering of others around me while Cuban elites, including corrupt officials such as then Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, lived in opulent luxury. I saw families crowded into cockroach-infested one-room hovels, homeless children begging on the streets, men breaking their backs lifting huge loads in the Habana docks. But I also saw that the heaviest burdens were those on women who toiled from dawn to dusk as maids, seamstresses, or beggars, and sometimes became prostitutes in the then infamous Habana red-light district to feed themselves and their children.
This is still the lot of millions of women in many developing nations. Women continue to work longer hours than men, often doing the hardest work, like carrying huge jugs of water and heavy loads of firewood, as is customary for women in Africa. Yet despite this, in Africa too woman-headed families are the poorest of the poor.
Globally, women earn an average of two thirds to three fourths as much as men for the same work in the market economy. And most of the work women do in families – including childcare, health and elder care, housekeeping, cooking, collecting firewood, drawing and carrying water, and subsistence farming – is not counted as economically productive, and is therefore not supported by economic policies.
Even in the rich United States, woman-headed families are the lowest tier of the economic hierarchy. One consequence is that one out of every five children lives in poverty – the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized nation. In addition, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate of women over 65 is almost twice that of men.
The fact that worldwide poverty and hunger disproportionately affect women and children is neither accidental nor inevitable. It is the direct result of a political and economic systems that still have a strong dominator stamp. For example, that even in an affluent nation like the United States older women are so much more likely to live in poverty than older men is largely due to the fact that government and business policies fail to protect elderly women through equal social security, pension, and retirement stipends.
If we look at financial resource allocation from a gendered perspective, we see that the poverty of women and children is in key respects the direct result of political and economic priorities. Specifically, it is the result of government, business, and family budgets skewed to privilege men and discriminate against women – budgets that are still considered normal by the vast majority of both women and men.
We see this discriminatory pattern most sharply in poorer nations. For example, education outlays in many African and Asian nations are much greater for males than for females. So also is spending for healthcare and other public services. In addition, as the economist Moni Mukherjee writes, “a much larger share of the outlay on public order and safety is needed for men than for women because the latter are less prone to criminal activities than men . . . Outlays for economic services are also skewed, with the lion’s share going to men.” In other words, spheres occupied primarily by men have funding priority.
The same patterns are found in intra-family allocation of resources. These skewed allocation patterns further perpetuate hunger and poverty – and stand in the way of economic and human development.
Excerpted from The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (2007) by Riane Eisler