November 15, 2003
Television reports of last Saturday's plane crash, in which there were two fatalities, showed the mother of one of the victims publicly bemoaning her loss and asking who would provide for her financially. It is a cry that women in her circumstances will continue to make as long as they continue to be socialised to believe that they should be financially dependent upon men.
Many women still see themselves, and are seen by men, as homemakers rather than earners, even when they work outside the home. And in homes where there is no husband/father, women's perceived and actual economic dependence on men is transferred to their sons, with, as in the case cited, sometimes tragic consequences. This is just one instance of the 'hidden' poverty cycle within which many women, and by extension their children, live.
Poverty has been defined as the state of being poor:Â the state of not having enough money to take care of basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing. The perception is that men as the breadwinners are meeting these basic needs for their families by working hard outside the home.
This is not always the case, but nevertheless it serves to skew the distribution of money and household resources. The man as the 'provider' receives greater rewards within the home and keeps more money for his individual use because he has earned it. The woman, regardless of how much unpaid work she does within the home, makes do. According to lore, and documented studies, when there is not enough, some women will go without in order to ensure the well-being of their families, especially their children.
Sadly though, the lesson that this deprivation should teach is often missed and these same women, as they advance in age, expect their adult children to become their providers.
Studies conducted by international funding agencies have revealed that more women are affected by poverty than men and that ending women's poverty and deprivation will, to some extent, rely on reducing their economic dependence on men. This has resulted in them directing more resources aimed at poverty eradication at women and their empowerment and rightly so.
However, if women's vulnerability to poverty is to be addressed, their financial empowerment must go beyond improved access to income by way of paid work. It has to be tackled holistically, which would include social empowerment and the unlearning of economic dependency.