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GENDER, POVERTY AND ENVIRONMENT: A THREE-WAY INTERACTION

In many parts of the world, women tend to be the poorest of the poor in a very literal sense. In addition to being the majority among the poor, they are often denied the most basic rights and access to critical resources such as land, inheritance or credit. Their labour and knowledge are undervalued. Their needs are often overlooked. They are more vulnerable to disease and disasters and the situation is made worse by their poverty. Cultural and social norms sometimes complicate matters further by placing additional expectations, restrictions and limitations on women. Gender gaps are widespread, and in no region of the world are women equal to men in legal, social and economic rights (World Bank 2003) (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Gender inequalities in legal, social and economic rights

Note: A value of 1 indicates low gender equality in rights, a value of 4 high equality.
Source: World Bank 2001

Shanty town in Bangladesh.
Source: Mark Edwards/Still Pictures

In recent years the definition of poverty has broadened from its traditional focus on per capita income, to encompass other dimensions such as lack of empowerment, opportunity, capacity and security (World Bank 2003). Analysts argue that improving women's access to economic opportunities is critical to the MDG of halving world poverty. Some of the causes of poverty are embedded in how resources are distributed, and this is linked to the power relations between men and women (Kabeer 2003). The MDGs of gender empowerment and poverty eradication are therefore seen as mutually reinforcing.

Integrating poverty and gender analyses in policy-making is a challenging task. The World Bank's Gender and Development Group took stock of the Bank's Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in 2001 and found that incorporation of gender had been minimal - less than half the PRSPs discussed gender issues in any detail. Even fewer integrated gender analysis into their strategy, resource allocation and monitoring and evaluation sections (Kabeer 2003).

Even more challenging than integrating poverty and gender is integrating environment as well into a three-way interaction. Gender is often the one that disappears in the analysis (Seager and Hartmann 2004).

The synergies between the goals of gender equity, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability are explored below in terms of addressing poverty among women - including energy and water poverty, health, climate change, natural disasters and creating sustainable livelihoods by empowering women in the realms of agriculture, forest and biodiversity management.


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