Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Women’s participation and poverty in fragile states 1/4

Half of the world’s poor already live in fragile and conflict-affected states – and the proportion is increasing.1 Fragile states often lack the structures and capacity to carry out basic governance functions.2 This in turn means that poverty cannot be addressed and the poorest stay poor: according to the OECD, “The fight against poverty is slower in fragile states than elsewhere.”3 In more concrete terms, as of 2011, no fragile state had yet achieved a single MDG goal.4 

It is a well-known fact that poverty affects mostly women. 60% of the world’s hungry are women.5
 Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food, but earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than one percent of the world’s property.6 Women’s rights are often neglected and ignored – and this is particularly the case in fragile states. Women in Yemen, for example, have one-fiftieth of the level of political empowerment of men; and overall, Yemen is ranked last (out of 136 countries) in terms of women’s levels of education, health, political and economic participation compared to men.7
Poverty and state fragility are caused, or made worse, by unjust and ineffective structures and practices. Progressio therefore focuses on the barriers that keep women poor and prevent them from realising their rights.
In fragile states, governance structures are commonly weak, ineffective, or even non-existent; and in a post-conflict setting, if women have not been involved in peace agreements, their needs are usually forgotten.8
 Excluding women from discussions concerning nation-building creates serious governance challenges. In order to change the status quo, more women’s voices must be heard and included when major political reform or transformation is undertaken.9
Within the overall institutional setting, social institutions and cultural practices – laws, norms, traditions and codes of conduct – are often the main sources of persisting discrimination against women in developing countries.10 A stronger civil society can play a key role in challenging the underlying factors that perpetuate discrimination – as Progressio’s country programme in Yemen has noted:
In the absence of effective civil society to influence government policies and decisions in favour of poor and marginalised groups, most government plans and programmes fail to make lasting changes in the lives of these people. Young people, especially young women, do not have any legitimate participation in political decision-making processes, governance and civic bodies since government policies and programmes fail to support their involvement. Deep-rooted cultural and traditional practices and beliefs undermine and discourage women from participating and opinion-making in public spheres.11
In order to take a big leap towards change, the post-2015 framework should give additional focus on the enormous challenges faced by women in fragile states – and on the factors that cause and perpetuate their marginalisation. This empowerment will only be achieved if the structures, policies and attitudes that actively disempower women are dismantled. The gender target therefore needs to be bold and strong, moving away from measuring average progress towards focusing on the most marginalised groups, such as women living in fragile states.12 

Authors: Lizzette Robleto-Gonzalez and Fatima Haase For further information, please contact: Lizzette Robleto-Gonzalez, policy officer on women and fragile states, Media enquiries: Esther Trewinnard,
Women and fragile states: Empowered women must be active participants in decision-making
Progressio policy briefing for the post-2015 discussions

 Lockhart, C, and Vincent, S, 2013, Ending extreme poverty in fragile and conflict-affected situations, Technical Paper for the UN
High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda,;
see also note 4
2 Development Assistance Committee International Network on Conflict and Fragility, 2013, Fragile states 2013: Resource flows
and trends in a shifting world, OECD,
3 As note 2
4 Chandy, L, and Gertz, G, 2011, Poverty in numbers: The changing state of global poverty from 2005 to 2015, The Brookings
Institution, p10,
5 The state of food insecurity in the world 2013 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) quoted on The Hunger
Project website
 The Global Poverty Project, 2013, Introduction to the challenges for achieving gender equality, Global Citizen website, http://
7 World Economic Forum, 2013, The Global Gender Gap Report 2013, pp378-9,
8 Francis, T, 2013, Somaliland: Empowering the forgotten heroines of peace-building – the women, Somaliland Sun website,

9 Ballington, J, and Karam, A (eds), 2005, Women in Parliament: Beyond numbers, International Institute for Democracy and
Electoral Assistance (IDEA),
10 Jütting, J, and Morrisson, C, 2005, Changing social institutions to improve the status of women in developing countries, OECD
Policy Brief No.27,
11 From Progressio’s Yemen project plan summary 2012 (unpublished)
12 Woodroffe, J, and Espien, E, 2012, Gender equality and the post-2015 framework, Gender and Development Network, p8,

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