Chen (2020) defines poverty as the situations or circumstances in which an individual or community are seen to be surviving without the monetary resources and basics required for a minimal standard of living. In such cases, generally, the fundamental needs of food, clothing and shelter for the individuals or the communities are not met. Such people mostly lack access to potable water, fresh food and medical attention or intervention. Unemployment, old age, some form of disability and/or taking care of a dependant person within the family are a few reasons why some sections of the society are more vulnerable to poverty than others. Other reasons may be being born in an impoverished family without proper housing, lack of education, lack of skills, good job opportunities and guidance and little to no savings. Lybbert and Taylor (2020, p.1) have observed that people in some nations are not even earning a US dollar a day on an average. They live in such abject poverty and circumstances which are hard to fathom. The poorest of the poor people in the world are women (Spicker, 2020, p.1). As primary caretakers of families, their responsibilities range from producing food, tilling land, grinding grain, fetching water and cooking, burning almost 85% of their daily calorie intake in the processes. These are the group of people that will be the focus of this essay. Why women are more prone to being impoverished, what precipitates women into poverty, why there is a lack of political will to reduce poverty and what the governments can do to reduce or eliminate poverty among women, are the issues that will be taken up in this assessment.
Philip and Rayhan (2004) have highlighted that the poor themselves are more vulnerable to poverty. This is because of their vulnerability to health hazards as they do not have access to health facilities, because of economic downturns as they have to strive hard every day in return of just a meagre income, because of natural catastrophes as they live out in the open or in makeshift structures and because of the violence and atrocities carried out on them by the more privileged people. Illnesses, injuries and loss of livelihood have dreadful impacts on these people because these factors are responsible for pushing them towards poverty. All kinds of social, economic, cultural, political and environmental factors play a role in making some groups in the society more vulnerable to poverty than others.
The chosen group for this essay is women in poverty. They are referred to as “the weaker sex”. This is because their bodies are not as rough and strong as that of men, but what everyone fails to realise is that women are so powerful that it is them who give birth to men. The state of women in the contemporary world is not only marred by gender inequalities and crimes against women, but also by their increasing proportion in the number of people becoming poor every day. Dawson (2019) has pointed out that the greatest number of poverty-struck people in the world are women. The same is the case in Australia as well. Women face all kinds of discrimination, which ultimately ends up in them becoming poor. Their work remains unchronicled and devalued. The Poverty in Australia 2018 report (2018) has highlighted that the number of women living in impoverished households are more than the number of men living in such households. The percentage of such women is 13.4% as compared to 13% for men. Poor female-headed households have lower income than poor male-headed households. The state of women, especially those living in poverty, is outrageously unpleasant. Heath (2017) remarks that for women of the ages of 55 and above in Australia, poverty is a diurnal reality. Divorce and inequalities at the workplaces can take a heavy toll on these women’s finances. She has also remarked that the weekly gap in payments between men and women in Australia in 2017 was approximately $250. Elderly women are far more likely to end up in poverty than younger women and men (Gaines, 2008). By the time they are 60 years of age, 34% of single older women in Australia end up in poverty. Some reasons for women precipitating into poverty are that they are paid less than men even when they are equally qualified as men and work for the same number of hours as men do, they are offered only low-paying “pink-collar” job roles which are chalked out for them and which do not suffice their needs and expenses, because of the death of spouses and/or earning family members, because of domestic violence and torture and because trafficking for flesh trade among a host of other reasons. Women, in these circumstances, are subjected to impecuniousness, often with many children to look after. In addition, they may also be dealing with unwanted or unintended pregnancies. They have to deal with these unintended pregnancies not only because they cannot afford contraception, but also because they cannot afford the expenses of abortion (Lapp, 2015). Their conditions are so unfavourable that they do not even afford sanitary napkins, tampons or menstrual cups during the days they bleed and face the pains of the menstrual cycle. This is referred to as “period poverty” (Khader, 2019). These factors combined together, take a toll on these women’s mental health, rendering them incapacitated forever to work towards a better future.
Keck (2020) has highlighted that almost 40% of single retired women in Australia live in poverty and this number could grow due to the ensuing CoViD-19 pandemic. Moreover, experts in Australia have warned the government that its tax-free withdrawal and superannuation savings initiative could drive thousands of more women into poverty and homelessness. They recommend that distinct funding should be made available by the Government of Australia for such vulnerable women. Meddemmen (2020) has pointed out that findings which were taken before the CoViD-19 pandemic had suggested that women and children were the most vulnerable sections of the society in Australia to sink below the poverty line in times to come. This situation is only going to get worsened by the pandemic. Australia in 2005, was witnessing a poverty war being waged. This was not happening in welfare offices or agencies providing employment, or community centres or housing grounds. This was not even happening in the chambers of the parliament or within the bureaucracy. This war was being waged in academic research institutes and policy thinktanks (Saunders, 2005, p.1). Staveren (2008) has pointed out that Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) have had little to no success in mainstreaming the genders. Gender issues are being greatly disregarded in the planning, analysis of poverty and policy actions. Lack of political will and lack of expertise in gender issues are the main reasons why governments are unable to reduce or eliminate poverty among these sections. Macroeconomic policies have also failed to include gender mainstreaming in the entire framework. The nucleus of the framework has limitedly described macroeconomic targets and policies and the seriousness of the broader socio-economic objectives and policies have been ignored. This pushes gender, especially the female gender, to be a social concern, rather than being focused on as a core issue of the poverty reduction framework. Nelson (1998) has commented that, adding to all the discrepancies, everything that women do, in their communities, religious structures, labour organisations and social movements, is generally not acknowledged by our political masters, because it happens outside the sphere of their governmental politics. As such, they completely forget that women form the significant other half of the society and undervalue their efforts in any domain. The same thing happens when they are entrusted with the responsibility to bring women out of poverty because they are completely indifferent to their causes. Flora and Thiboumery (2006) have cited lack of political capital also as a reason for the government not playing its part in reducing or eliminating poverty within this section of the society.
The government can provide for well-maintained rehabilitation centres for impoverished women where their mental and physical health is looked after by qualified nurses and doctors. Clean and comfortable clothes can be distributed to them in these rehabilitation centres. Fresh food should be served to them and a physical trainer should conduct exercise routines for them daily. There should be efforts from the government’s side to search for the families of these women in case they were found alone. Altay (2007) has suggested that the government can microfinance or microcredit the women who are in abject poverty so as to eliminate or at least reduce poverty in this section of the society. The specific departments, ministries or divisions of the government working to reduce or eliminate poverty among women should view the problem as a women-specific issue and have their aims focused on the problems of women who are poor and in need of help (Kaka and Abidin, 2013). Jarrett and Jefferson (2004) have suggested that poverty-struck women with no shelter can be given homes as part of housing projects in both urban and rural areas. Boonstra and Sonfield (2000) have remarked that poor women facing unwanted or unintended pregnancies should be facilitated through public funding and government interventions so that they can get abortions done. Moreover, such women should be given regular opportunities by the government to pick up jobs which can lift their dignity up and pay them equally as men. Persons committing crimes against vulnerable and poor women should be severely punished (Chapkis, 2003).
The state of women has been persistently seen to decline, especially when they become the victims of poverty and all kinds of injustices and atrocities are meted out to them. It can be said however that, with the government bearing the will to uplift them and acting on time, their conditions can be amended and they can lead free and happy lives like most other privileged women do. They have all the rights to live life like other normal people do. They are also someone’s daughters, sisters and mothers. The society must accept them as their own and the government should put in efforts to make their lives better.
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