Poverty is Sexist, Explained

If you follow ONE, you’re likely familiar with the phrase “Poverty is Sexist.” It’s ONE’s current campaign — it appears in blog posts, graphics, and it’s even been a trending hashtag. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it, Melinda Gates has said it, and 132 (and counting) other influential figures have signed an open letter declaring it.

So, what does it mean when ONE says that poverty is sexist?

In short, poverty is sexist because it disproportionately affects women and girls over their male counterparts. Poverty and gender inequality are inseparable. Gender inequality perpetuates the cycle of poverty, and girls born into poverty have the deck stacked against them from the moment they enter this world. The ways in which poverty is sexist are numerous and complex — a single blog post could not possibly do the issue full justice — but here are some highlights:

Women and girls do more unpaid work.

On average, women spend twice as much time as men doing the unpaid work that makes life possible for their families. In the developing world, women and girls typically take on the largest share of the cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and often walk several miles – multiple times a day – to gather water and firewood. All these things take time, and as a result, women have far less time to complete their education, earn an income, or even get the healthcare that they need.

Education is often not an option.

Perhaps the single greatest barrier to breaking the cycle of poverty is lack of education, and for girls in the developing world, education is often inaccessible. In low-income countries, less than half of girls complete primary education, and only 12% complete secondary education. Enrolling a child in school can be costly for families living in poverty, and due to cultural expectations and gender discrimination, parents will often send their sons to school over their daughters.

Education is critical for young girls hoping to break out of poverty. Educated girls are better able to avoid getting sick and less likely to become child brides. They have increased earning potential, knowledge about their rights, and access to important services. There are currently 130 million girls still not in school, which means the world is missing out on 130 million brains that potentially hold revolutionary ideas to propel us into a better world.

Women have fewer economic opportunities.

Women – especially those in developing nations – have limited economic opportunities, obstructing their ability to break out of poverty. Legal, economic, and social barriers prevent many women from accessing quality jobs, having bank accounts, getting approval for lines of credit, or even owning land. (Did you know only 10-20% of landowners worldwide are female?) This means many women are held back from earning a living and face obstacles saving and investing the money they do earn in their families or businesses.

Globally, almost half of women’s productive potential is unutilized, compared with less than a quarter of men’s. Since women tend to reinvest their earnings into their families and communities, allowing women equal access to economic opportunities will unleash the squandered potential of millions, enabling them to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and those around them.

Women face barriers to proper nutrition and healthcare.

In too many countries, women are unable to get proper nutrition and healthcare they need due to barriers such as cost and the lack of nearby healthcare facilities. As a result, nearly 40% of women on the continent suffer from anemia because they lack basic nutrition, and one out of every 36 women in sub-Saharan Africa will die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Illness and malnourishment, especially during a girl’s childhood and adolescence, can stunt growth and learning. It is beyond difficult to go to school, hold a job, or care for a family if you are sick and hungry, yet this is the reality for many women.

In the coming weeks and months, ONE will continue to shout from the rooftops that poverty is sexist; not only because it’s true, but also because we can’t end extreme poverty without addressing gender inequality. Even though extreme poverty has been more than halved in the last 20 years, girls and women around the world are still lagging behind in the progress that’s been made. To end extreme poverty for good, women and girls must have equal opportunity. That’s why ONE Campus members are campaigning to bring education to the 130 million young girls not in school. If you care that Poverty is Sexist, act.

If you believe ALL #GirlsCount, choose your number. Join the count. Fight for girls’ education. Start here.