Poverty reduction programmes should be gender sensitive – CDB study

Regional policymakers are being urged to pay greater attention to the impact of poverty and poverty-reduction programmes on women and households headed by women.

A Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) study is proposing fundamental refocussing of targeted intervention programmes as one means of making a significant impact on current poverty levels.

The study, The Changing Nature of Poverty and Inequality in the Caribbean: New Issues, New Solutions, found that, consistent with earlier studies, households headed by women who are not in a stable or visiting relationship are the most vulnerable to economic shocks and privation.

At the same time however, the analysis shows that while there have been some changes in the characteristics of the poor, over the period of the study they have fundamentally remained the same with a few differences across the Region. While female headed households (FHHs) are consistently defined as poor; for example, they are not a homogeneous group, but there are differences within this category in relation to female heads not in union or heads in a visiting relationship.

These results have implications for programme participation and the indicators used to identify and target the poor since, in cases where FHHs are defined as a programme target group, their blanket inclusion may result in targeting errors,” the study said.

The study found corroboration with the general literature on the impact of household size on the likelihood of being poor, but noted that equally important is the age and gender composition and family structure of the household, since members contribute differently to resources, possibly influenced by different coping strategies. 

Nevertheless, the occupation, sector of employment and educational outcomes of the head of household (HoH) is also correlated to its well-being.  Equally important is the number of household members employed or unemployed, which also impacts whether children are involved in economic activities. 

The higher likelihood of FHHs being poor possibly reflects the multiple disadvantages and vulnerabilities that women face despite significant progress in education and labour market outcomes, the study said. 

Women still have lower labour force participation rates than men, earn significantly less even for the same job and are over represented in low-paying jobs (with greater exposure to shocks and vulnerability).

The study found too that the sector of employment of the household head also influences the probability of the family unit being poor. In Saint Lucia, Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis, heads in the service and constructions sectors were significantly more likely to be poor. 

What is consistent across all countries and for all periods where data is available, is that households heads in self˗employment, or employed in the private sector, are significantly less likely to be poor relative to HoHs in other sectors.

Better educational outcomes for women are also showing up in the occupational outcomes where FHHs and single heads not in a union (they are more likely to be females) are more likely to be in the professional category in both Dominica and Jamaica.  In addition, women are still overly represented in elementary occupations in both countries, as well as clerks and sales occupations.

Given these findings the study says it is important that a gender perspective is taken when looking at the impact of poverty and on poverty-reduction actions with a view of achieving gender equality. 

Disparities between men and women exacerbate poverty and, at the same time, poverty causes the gap between them to widen.  This is evident in differential access to resources, information, decision-making and economic and political power of men and women resulting in them experiencing poverty differently with varying outcomes over their life cycle.

This suggests that initiatives to reduce poverty must be cognisant of the different vulnerabilities of men and women. The study contends that a gendered perspective allows for the crafting of specific interventions geared towards meeting the needs of men and women while recognising their differences.

In tackling poverty, policy makers need to be cognisant that in implementing concerted actions and strategies, that no one group should fare better that the other and no one should be left behind. 

“Producing and utilising sex-disaggregated data are required to support this process,” the study says.