You don’t have to look far to find assertions that up to 70% of the world’s poor are women ‑ despite Duncan’s efforts to show that the claim cannot be substantiated.
Just last month, ONE launched a new campaign called “Poverty is Sexist”, drawing on star power to bring attention to the issue of women’s poverty.
ONE didn’t use the 70% stat, but implied that poverty is feminized. Yet the reality is that it is still not possible to say whether women are disproportionately poor ‑ despite widespread calls for better sex-disaggregated statistics.
Why? Because both monetary measures of poverty such as the International Poverty Line and multidimensional measures such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index continue to use the household as the unit of analysis. This assumes that everyone in a given household is equally poor or not poor – and that’s a big problem.
Not to mention concerns about the gendered differences in the experience of poverty. How do you price the value of being free from violence or securely accessing family planning?
These are not small problems. A great deal hangs on how we measure social progress. Are development programs working? Do anti-poverty policies make a difference? Is foreign aid alleviating poverty? Evaluating households makes it impossible to see how different members of the household are doing. And failing to assess dimensions of life that are particularly important to poor women, or men, limits our ability to show whether and how their poverty differs.
So what to do? Well, despite heated debates about measuring global poverty, something of a consensus has emerged. Most experts now agree that monetary poverty measurement should be complemented by multidimensional measurements. The individual, not the household, should be the unit of analysis. Poverty measurement should reflect the views and priorities of poor people. And in so far as possible, measurement should provide meaningful comparisons across contexts and over time.