The construct of the ‘feminisation of poverty’ has helped to give gender an increasingly prominent place within international discourses and policies on poverty and poverty reduction. Yet the way in which gender has been incorporated has rarely relieved women of the burden of coping with poverty in their households and has often exacerbated this.
Through an analysis of empirical evidence this paper explores the ‘feminisation of poverty’ thesis in order to make it more relevant to women’s lives. The paper highlights the ways in which potential benefits become burdens when direct and indirect strategies to enhance women’s access to material resources simply increase the loads they bear and the demands made upon them. Social protection initiatives for example are highlighted in their heavy reliance on mothers, making little effort to involve fathers in shared responsibilities for example distributing unpaid care work, programmes thus often endorse and entrench a highly non-egalitarian model of the family.
The way in which programmes are constructed within this paradigm has translated into single issue interventions that have little power to destabilise deeply embedded structures of gender inequality, in the home, labour market, or institutions. Policy and programme responses therefore need to take into account men and gender relations for the equalisation of power, but also ways in which to address the models which are guiding the direction of economic development nationally and internationally and their relationship with gender inequality.