Why We Cannot Solve World Poverty Without Achieving Gender Equality

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Ecofeminism | 0 comments

Article by Apolline Harvey

Photo by Ricardo Díaz on Unsplash


The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals place ending world poverty as goal number 1, however, I believe this is not realistic without resolving goal number 5 (gender equality).[1] Poverty has been an ongoing, unresolved issue for countless years, now we must consider solving gender inequality as a solution to solve poverty. Unequal gender structures and norms disadvantage women in all aspects of life, but financial inequality ultimately means women are more likely to live in poverty than men. This is demonstrated in the UK where “22 per cent [of women] have a persistent low income, compared to approximately 14 per cent of men”. [2] Therefore how can we expect to solve poverty when a large part of it is due to gender inequality?

Domestic labour is an aspect of gender inequality which is so deep-rooted in almost all communities that it is often forgotten as being a leading reason behind more women living in poverty than men. The key issue is that women are expected to do the childrearing, the cleaning, the cooking and more, and now in many countries, women are also expected to get a job. Of course, this is a huge improvement compared to a time when women had no financial freedom, but women are still at a disadvantage compared to men. Women all over the world on average take on over 2.5 times more unpaid domestic labour than men, leaving them less time and energy to invest into paid employment.[3] This is particularly apparent in the Japanese “business drinking culture” known as ‘nomikai’, this involves companies having after-work drinking parties where business will be discussed and relationships between colleagues are formed. [4] This is disproportionately beneficial to men who may not feel pressured to return home to carry out domestic work, as many women do. Further, Jackson and Pearson argue that “women are concentrated in the poorest sections of all population because of divisions of labour between paid and unpaid work”, highlighting we cannot expect world poverty to end if women are exploited as unpaid labourers.[5] Perhaps the most viable solution to this problem would be to remove the belief that a person embodying feminine attributes should do the domestic work, particularly as gender itself is socially constructed and therefore the so-called ‘gender roles’ are malleable.

It’s not just the unpaid domestic labour distribution that results in more women living in poverty compared to men, but also the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is a monetary disadvantage to women, which is often given a lot of attention due to the quantitative data that provides undeniable proof of gender inequality; it has two main impacts. Firstly (and more obviously) women are underpaid compared to men, this is made evident as in 2023 globally women earned 23% less than men.[6] In fact The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has calculated that by overcoming the gender pay gap in the US, “the poverty rate among all [US] working women would fall from 8.2 to 4.0 percent”, showing the undeniable effects the gender pay gap currently has.[7] Secondly, by being paid less, women would have to work more to end up with a similar monetary outcome as men. This is shown by a UN article stating women in East and Southern Africa would theoretically have to work 5 additional hours per week, which as we have established is challenging seeing as a woman’s time is limited due to unpaid domestic work.[8] The gender pay gap is predominantly acknowledged globally, but seeing as it is a cause of female poverty, we need to take stronger action against it. In the UK, there have been significant attempts to close the gender pay gap; for example, companies with over 250 staff members must publish their gender pay gap statistics and, The Fawcett Society has undergone gender pay gap campaigns such as ‘Right to Know’.[9] [10] Though there still remains a gender pay gap in the UK, between 2011 and 2021 the gender pay gap had fallen by a quarter, showing some of the benefits of these actions which will help solve poverty. [11]

Ultimately, gender inequality is not just associated with poverty, but is a direct cause of poverty. As well as unpaid domestic labour and the gender pay gap women are also economically disadvantaged due to education, availability of jobs, accessibility and lack of other opportunities. The list is continuous, but by understanding the link between gender equality and ending global poverty we can start resolving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.



[1] https://sdgs.un.org/goals
[2] https://neu.org.uk/advice/equality/sex-and-gender-equality/women-and-poverty
[3] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/csw61/redistribute-unpaid-work
[4] https://motto-jp.com/media/work/nomikai-japans-business-drinking-culture/
[5] Jackson, C, & Pearson, R (1998). Feminist Visions of Development: Gender Analysis and Policy, Taylor & Francis Group, London. P. 11. Available at: https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.manchester.idm.oclc.org/lib/manchester/detail.action?docID=240327
[6] https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/gender-pay-gap-statistics/#sources_section
[7] https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/R468.pdf
[8] https://africa.unwomen.org/en/stories/experts-take/2023/09/why-do-women-earn-less
[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gender-pay-gap-reporting-guidance-for-employers#:~:
[10] https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/right-to-know
[11] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/bulletins/genderpaygapintheuk/2023#:~:


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