International Development Planning Review

Women, girls and world poverty: empowerment, equality or essentialism?

International Development Planning Review (2016), 38, (1), 1–24.

Abstract

This paper asks if mounting reliance on women and girls to solve world poverty is an effective means to achieve greater female empowerment and gender equality, or whether, instead, it threatens to lockdown essentialising stereotypes which are unlikely to dismantle gender disparities within and beyond the home. The notion of a ‘feminisation of poverty’ has been widely popularised over the past twenty years, and has had some benefits in respect of drawing attention to gendered disadvantage. However, whether the kinds of policy initiatives which have emerged to address this are good for women and girls is more contentious. The discussion highlights some key problems and paradoxes in three popular interventions nominally oriented to helping women lift themselves and their households out of poverty: conditional cash transfer programmes, microfinance schemes, and ‘investing in girls’, as promoted, inter alia, among other things, by the Nike Foundation’s ‘Girl Effect’.

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Chant, Sylvia