Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of individuals and families falling into poverty in most countries, as they face greater economic insecurity, owing in large part to unprecedented unemployment that has disproportionately affected women.
According to the most recent projections, poverty is worsening for women and girls. New projections of global poverty by UN Women, UNDP and the Pardee Center for International Futures estimated that globally, 388 million women and girls would be living in extreme poverty in 2022 (compared to 372 million men and boys). However, the outlook could be much worse. In a “high-damage” scenario, this figure could rise to 446 million (427 million for men and boys).
Global extreme poverty headcounts, base and high-damage forecasts, by sex (2017-2030) Source: UN Women, UNDP and Pardee Center for International Futures using the International Futures modeling platform (Based on a sample of 186 countriesand household-level data)
According to these new forecasts, 83.7% of the world’s extreme poor women and girls would live in just two regions: Sub-Saharan Africa (62.8%) and Central and Southern Asia (20.9%).
Female population living in extreme poverty, by region, 2022 (in millions ) Source: UN Wome n, UNDP and Pardee Center for International Futures using the International Futures modeling platform ( Based on a smple of 186 countries)
When women are poor, their rights are not protected. They face challenges that may be extremely difficult to overcome. This results in deprivation in their own lives as well as losses for the broader society and economy as women’s productivity is well known as one of the greatest generators of economic dynamism. In efforts to reduce poverty, a focus on poor women as opposed to men is justified because women’s paid and unpaid work is critical for the survival of poor households.
Women are economic participants. They produce and process food for the family; they are the primary caregivers for children, the elderly, and the sick; and their income and labor are directed toward the education, health, and well-being of children. In fact, there is undeniable evidence from a number of studies that mothers typically spend their income on food and health care for their children, as opposed to men who spend a greater proportion of their income on personal needs.
Why the majority of the world’s poor are women
Gender inequality is one of the world’s oldest and most pervasive forms of inequality. It silences women’s voices, undervalues their work, and makes women’s positions unequal to men’s, from the family to the national and global levels. Despite significant progress in recent years, no country has women achieved economic equality with men and women continue to be more likely than men to live in poverty.
While both men and women are impoverished, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to deal with their circumstances. They are more likely to be the last to eat, have the least access to healthcare, and are frequently trapped in time-consuming, unpaid domestic tasks. They have fewer opportunities to work or start businesses. A good education may be out of reach. Some are forced into sexual exploitation as part of their basic survival.
Women are the lowest-paid workers across the world. Globally, they earn 24% less than men, and for closing the gap it will take 170 years at the current rate of progress. There are 700 million fewer women in paid work than men (Low wages). Women in agriculture typically work 13 hours per week more than men, the gender pay gap in rural areas can reach 40%, and less than 20% of women worldwide own land.
75% of women in developing countries work in the informal economy, where they are less likely to have employment contracts, legal rights, or social protection and are frequently underpaid to escape poverty. 600 million people work in the most insecure and precarious jobs.
Women do at least twice as much unpaid care work (such as childcare and housework) as men, sometimes ten times as much, often on top of their paid work. The annual value of this work is estimated to be at least $10.8 trillion, which is more than three times the size of the global technology industry (Unpaid care work)
Increased economic equality for women would reduce poverty for everyone. Countries with greater gender equality tend to have higher income levels, and evidence from a number of regions and countries shows that closing the gap reduces poverty. In Latin America, for example, an increase in the number of women in paid work accounted for roughly 30% of the overall reduction in poverty and income inequality between 2000 and 2010.
Empowering women farmers to end hunger and poverty
Agriculture is now recognized as crucial to economic growth and food security by governments, donors, and development practitioners. About 80% of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farming.
Women account for a significant portion of agricultural labor in developing countries. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women make up approximately 43% of the agricultural labor force. In some Sub-Saharan African countries, the percentage can reach 80%. Agriculture employs more than two-thirds of women in South Asia. Women produce the majority of food, making them the true agents of food security and household welfare in rural areas. As a result, rural women must be empowered through agricultural policies that help them meet their basic needs and alleviate poverty.
Although agriculture is more likely than other industries to provide diverse opportunities for women’s empowerment, Women farmers, on the other hand, face obstacles that prevent them from feeding their families and reinvesting in their livelihoods. Women farmers do not receive the same level of assistance as men farmers. They have fewer opportunities to obtain land, loans, technology, other inputs, and extension services.
When it comes to financing, women farmers are often at a disadvantage because they lack the resources to meet stringent banking requirements. Women in agriculture will continue to lag behind unless they have better access to appropriate financial services such as credit, savings, and insurance. Microfinance institutions and other financial service providers with a rural presence can play an important role. They can develop special programs to encourage existing female farmers and potential female farmers to invest in agriculture.
Governments must take actions to remove those barriers that are preventing women farmers from accessing critical farming inputs. They must ensure that women have secure land rights, as well as provide women with essential funding and support for farming and climate change adaptation. Such assistance would protect their rights while also increasing their productivity. It would effectively reduce poverty and hunger by unleashing the potential of hundreds of millions of women farmers.
There are about 815 million hungry people around the world. This figure could be significantly reduced if women farmers had the same rights and resources as men and were empowered to fully contribute to the food system.
Closing the gender gap in agriculture would result in significant benefits for both the agricultural sector and society. Women could increase farm yields by 20-30% if they had equal access to productive resources as men. This could increase total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4%, reducing the global hunger rate by 12-17%. Equality for women would benefit agricultural development, and agricultural development would benefit women.
Despite the pandemic’s devastation, this further deepening of poverty is not a foregone conclusion. These trends can be reversed for the better with sufficient policy intervention and a push to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to a simulation analysis, an integrated policy approach that includes increased spending on social protection, investments in the green economy, improved infrastructure, and education would lift nearly 150 million women and girls out of poverty by 2030. Supporting women’s access to quality and decent work, as well as improving their livelihoods is therefore vital for achieving women’s rights, reducing poverty, and achieving broader development goals.
Fabiyi, E. F., & Akande, K. E. (2015). Economic empowerment for rural women in Nigeria: poverty alleviation through agriculture.
Heidi Shierholz, “Nearly 11% of the workforce is out of work with no reasonable chance of getting called back to a prior job,” Economic Policy Institute, June 29, 2020, available at https://www.epi.org/blog/nearly-11-of-the-workforce-is-out-of-work-with-zero-chance-of-getting-called-back-to-a-prior-job/.