The Face of Poverty is (Still) Woman

The WDB Trust is committed to poverty alleviation and eradication. Our programmes on the ground take place in under-resourced communities in the rural areas of South Africa.

Over the past 27 years, the WDB Trust has been facilitating programmes to help women to help themselves. Time and time again we see that the face of poverty is woman.

We are at the coalface of targeting poverty, and our WDB staff work with women who carry the responsibility of not only feeding their own families, but often being responsible for ensuring that there is food on the table of their extended families and community members. These are our mothers, sisters and grandmothers, who fearlessly take on the commitment of ensuring that the family in some way survives, often in very trying and difficult circumstances.

UN Women champions women’s rights around the world and says that “women’s economic empowerment is central to realising women’s rights and gender equality”. The fact is that gender differences affect women all over the world, in both developing and developed economies.

The fact is that “women remain less likely to participate in the labour market than men around the world”. The facts paint the picture – according to UN Women, the labour-force participation rate for women in the age group of 25-54 is 63% compared with 94% for men.

A woman going to fetch water in rural KZN.

Women are also more than twice as likely as men to be contributing as family workers, says UN Women. “Women are over-represented in informal and vulnerable employment,” says UN Women. Despite the fact that care work is essential to the economy functioning well, it is relatively badly paid or not paid for at all.

Research into banking shows that formal financial institutions have 65% of men as customers, with only 58% of women worldwide.

And as the world progresses and we embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the digital divide is also affected by the gender slant, with fewer women having access to the internet.

The UN Women facts state that “most of the 3.9-billion people who are offline are in rural areas, poorer, less educated and tend to be women and girls”.

A lot of the work done by our Siyakhula programme has to do with assisting women with funding to begin their own business. As UN Women says, “Women are less likely to be entrepreneurs and face more disadvantages starting business: In 40% of economies, women’s early-stage entrepreneurial activity is half or less than half of that of men’s.

Black African Women are the Most Vulnerable

Statistics SA’s Living Conditions Survey gives detailed information on income and expenditure patterns and living circumstances of households all over the country. The recently launched “Men, Women and Children: Findings of the Living Conditions Survey 2014/2015” had some very interesting findings on women and poverty in our country.

Women in rural areas are at the coalface of poverty in South Africa.

First, the report says that 49.2% (almost half) of the adult population was living below what they refer to as the upper-bound poverty line (UBPL).

Its website states: “According to the LCS 2014/2015, there were 35.1-million adults (aged 18 years and older) in South Africa in 2015. When looking at the poverty headcount by sex using the UBPL, adult males and females experienced a headcount of 46.1% and 52.0%, respectively. Adult females experienced higher levels of poverty when compared to their male counterparts, regardless of the poverty line used.”

The report said female-headed households mostly felt the experience of poverty.

“The poverty gap (the distance away from the poverty line) and the severity of poverty measures were larger for female-headed households compared with households headed by males.

It also said that the proportion of females living below the UBPL was 16.9% more than that of households headed by males (49.9% versus 33.0%).

When it came to traditional areas, the report illustrated that almost six out of every 10 households headed by males (59.3%) compared to over seven out of 10 households headed by females (84.8%) were living under the UBPL.

This information is really nothing new to the WDB Trust and the WDB NPOs. The fact is that women continue to be at the coalface of poverty and, in particular, it is the rural women who continue to fight the scourge of poverty in our under-resourced areas.

WDB continues to try to address the issues on the ground, with our programmes – Zenzele, Siyakhula and the WDB Training Academy – but it really is the tip of the iceberg and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to change both the statistics and the lives of women and children in our country.

WDB’s Zenzele and Siyakhula programmes focus on the eradication of poverty in rural areas.