Poverty, work and employment

Globalisation has coincided with a global increase in female labour force participation rates which has narrowed the gender gap from 32 to 26 percentage points (Razavi et al. 2012). However the narrowing of the gender gap in economic participation rates has not meant equality in terms of pay and status and increasing female labour force participation has coincided with an increase in informal forms of work which are precarious and insecure, in turn restricting access to protection mechanisms such as social insurance. The feminisation of anti-poverty programmes in the achievement of women’s empowerment has also had significant implications on work towards gender equality. Where women are provided with economic resources to empower themselves and their families they are put under enormous pressures as the distribution of care responsibilities within the household and the positive reinforcement of domestic care roles for men are rarely engaged.

The interplay of work and income with social relations between men and women is critical for achieving gender equality. Patriarchal constructions of men as providers have significant implications on the gendered construction of paid and unpaid work within households. A lack of attention to the impact of economic empowerment initiatives on gender relations has shown increases in household tensions and resentment by men resulting in abusive behaviours and violence against women in an effort to re-establish male dominance and control. This 'crisis of masculinity' is related to men’s reports of stress, depression and inadequacy in their sense of self and in their relationships in contexts of economic crisis and deepening poverty. It is important that the relationship between men’s practices and economic marginalisation is considered in the achievement of gender equality.  There is also a call for men’s involvement in care work in order to help to break down some of the rigidities of male identity and create more equitable household relations. Evidence from grassroots micro-credit and social protection interventions are showing the possibilities of transformative change where gender power imbalances in the home and the community are engaged explicitly. It is critical that these interventions however are situated in wider structural change that transforms global trade and labour market models to ensure the stability and investment necessary to achieve goals of social justice for men and women.

Case studies

‘We do it ourselves: Nijera Kori and the struggle for economic and gender justice in Bangladesh', EMERGE Case Study 2

Nijera Kori's work in Bangladesh to organise landless people to fight for gender and economic justice

Learning aims

  1. Understanding trends in the global economic system and the implications at regional, national and local levels for women’s empowerment and gender equality
  2. Evidence on the way that economic and other institutions both formal and informal influence change towards gender equality in economic development
  3. Evidence exploring the role of boys and men in enabling and constraining women’s economic empowerment
  4. Examples of how economic empowerment interventions and approaches can effectively support long-term attitudinal and behaviour change, facilitating men’s and boys’ support for gender equality