Published on Development for Peace

How new tools can more accurately measure the intersection of forced displacement, gender, and poverty

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Children seated on the floor outside, leaning against the wall of their school Children seated on the floor outside, leaning against the wall of their school

Hima lives in Somalia. Until recently, she worked as a street garbage collector, but when this work decreased, she started cleaning houses to survive. When there isn’t enough money, Hima is able to get food using a loan from the local shop. “We will pay back the loan when we have the money… this is how life goes on” she says. Hima is one of the many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in Somalia, one of the world’s most fragile regions experiencing ongoing violence. In addition to conflict, reoccurring drought and food insecurity have increased the number of IDPs, forcing more people into poverty. But finding the poor and assessing their true level of poverty is often difficult in fragile settings due to insecurity and conflict.

Recent figures from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimate that in 2020, globally, 30.7 million people were newly displaced due to natural disasters, with another 9.8 million people forcibly displaced due to conflict and violence. At the end of  2020, there were 48 million people internally displaced, and 26 million people living as refugees in a host country. Many of the internally displaced and refugee families face chronic deprivations, living in temporary housing or camps with basic living conditions or with limited access to services and employment.

Our paper for the Gender Dimensions of Forced Displacement project examines the intersection of forced displacement, multidimensional poverty, and gender, using a tailored Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI measures deprivations with 15 indicators across four dimensions: education, health, living standards, and financial security. We applied the MPI to forcibly displaced populations in five Sub-Saharan African countries: Ethiopia, Northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan.

The MPI is a powerful tool to measure inequalities between households, but it has been underutilized for measuring individual deprivations and intrahousehold analyses. We consider eligible persons with available, individual-level data in each indicator, e.g., children aged 6-16 years are eligible for deprivations in terms of school attendance, but those older or younger are not. By focusing on specific indicators – primary school completion, school attendance, legal identification, and unemployment – we identify how many household members are deprived in each area and who they are: their gender and their age. This analysis permits us to identify who may be driving household deprivations.

We find that, generally, displacement affects a households’ deprivation status, whereas gender affects differences within households, although results vary by country.

We find large differences in incidence and intensity of multidimensional poverty within and across the five countries. 

  • Displaced populations experience a higher incidence of poverty than the non-displaced population in all countries, but in Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan, the intensity of poverty is higher among the non-displaced population.
  • In Sudan, male and female IDPs report a poverty incidence nearly five times higher than their non-displaced counterparts.

Displacement is sometimes associated with elevated poverty risks for women and girls:

  • In Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, women and girls who are forcibly displaced experience have higher rates of multidimensional poverty, on average, than their non-displaced counterparts.
  • In Ethiopia and Nigeria, displaced women and girls experience higher rates of multidimensional poverty compared to men and boys in their households.

However, there are no gender gaps in multidimensional poverty in Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, among either the displaced or the non-displaced.

Gender gaps in education deprivations are common.  For example:

  • Women are less likely than men to have completed primary school, reflecting accumulated disadvantage over time, and suggesting gender may be the more important predicting factor in chronic deprivations.
  • In Ethiopia, around eight in ten poor children are not attending school, regardless of displacement status, although gender gaps in school attendance are significant only for the refugee community, where girls are more deprived than boys (3-percentage points among the wider population, and 5-percentage points among the poor).
  • Moreover, the gender gap in education disadvantages boys and men in Sudan, while in Nigeria, displacement rather than gender was associated with not attending school.

Among the multidimensionally poor, children in displaced households, and especially girls, face greater barriers to education than their host community peers.

  • In Somalia, forcibly displaced schoolchildren experience intrahousehold gender inequality more often than non-displaced children do, to the disadvantage of girls. This persists in displaced and host households, although the gender gaps in displaced households hold by some 15-percentage points, compared to only a 1-percentage point difference in non-displaced households.
  • The long-term repercussions of school closures during the pandemic will only make these disadvantages more acute. 

We must use intrahousehold breakdowns in future research to address the needs of the most vulnerable. Deeper analyses of each MPI by country—their geographic regions, rural/urban divides, and administrative divisions—can help policymakers and development and humanitarian partners better design, target and deploy poverty-alleviation programs.

The Gender Dimensions of Forced Displacement is led by Lucia Hanmer and Diana Arango, under the direction of Hana Brixi, Global Director, Gender. It is of the program "Building the Evidence on Forced Displacement: A Multi-Stakeholder Partnership''. The program is funded by UK aid from the United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). It is managed by the World Bank Group (WBG) and was established in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


Sophie Scharlin-Pettee

Policy Officer at the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative

Yeshwas Admasu

Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Sabina Alkire

Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)

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