The Breakthrough Voice 20th November, 2018

Feminisation Of Poverty: The Link Between Patriarchy And Capitalism.

According to popular belief, patriarchy and capitalism are two different institutional areas that are distinctive in their own forms. However, it must be noted that these two are very much connected in terms of everyday practice and propagation of inequality.

The most evident factor that will lead us to the understanding of this connection is the ‘sexual division of labour’. This term, as it reflects upfront, is the division of labour in society based on gender.  This form of division of labour is practised so that women are kept within the folds of the household, mostly to maintain the line of descent and to cater to the male members of the family as unpaid domestic workers. 

The ‘Feminisation of Poverty’ started gaining ground mostly around the early 1990s, although the coinage goes back to the 1970s. Simply put, the feminisation of poverty is a situation in which the world’s poverty levels are systematically biased against women or households headed by females. Before getting to the ways in which this systematic form of capitalism flourishes, let’s look at the general history of the gendered or sexual division of labour.

The beginning of human societies started with tribal culture, mainly hunting-gathering and agricultural. The primary, tribal societies maintained equality in terms of labour. In agricultural societies, both the men and women were equally involved in the sowing, watering, harvesting, and transporting tasks. Among the hunter-gatherers, there was a basic division of labour in terms of allocating tasks in a manner that did not imply the upper hand of one gender over the other.

Usually, the men would go hunting, while the women would be in search of stuff to gather, for preparing their regular meals. As societies started moving forward in time, various changes in practices started taking place, the most important one being segregating the home and the outer world. That is the point from which gender-based labour and differences came to the forefront, the major characteristics of differentiation being class, caste, race, and sexuality.

With the advent of industrialisation, urbanisation, modernisation, and westernisation, with the Europeans colonising most places around the globe, the sexual division of labour started to gain ground more rapidly along with the development of capitalist institutions. It has to be understood that the State is another capitalist institution that chooses to promote patriarchy and marginalising women.

The feminisation of poverty is a situation in which the world’s poverty levels are systematically biased against women or households headed by females.

According to the UN Women database, approximately 1.5 billion people living on just $1 a day or even less are women. Over the past few decades, in fact, the gap between male poverty level and female poverty level has widened and has become almost like a vicious cycle. We have come into a world “modern” enough to help some people thrive at the behest of several other lives that are under threat. Ever since the movements surrounding women’s presence in the public arena started, there have been changes to the capitalist structure in terms of labour laws and allowances.

Even today, the most common form of discrimination against women at work is the enormous wage gap. The average global wage gap is just about a little less than 50% – which makes it almost 50%. Hence, on an average, women earn almost half of what men earn. In the US, however,  women are paid approximately 80% of what men are paid. Yet, the nation boasts of being the world leader, showing us the pathway of ‘modernity’!

Adding to this, there are the regular expenses that we have to bear, which are also structured in a way that makes women land in a situation of palpable destitution by the end of every monthly financial routine. More than often we come across similar products available for men and women separately, and the ones available for women are priced at higher rates.  This practice that ensures feminisation of poverty is called levying the “Pink Tax”. This implies unnecessary pricing of women’s products at a higher rate than that of men’s products. This tax is levied on consumer goods and retail products of everyday requirement.

To add to the misery, there is a special category within the Pink Tax, called the “Tampon Tax”. This is the tax that women are required to pay on the purchase of their monthly menstrual hygiene products. Menstrual hygiene products are atrociously priced. The state and capitalist institutions are completely aware of the fact that menstrual hygiene products are the ones that cannot be avoided by women at any cost. Hence, this tax is a method of extortion from women, giving men the benefit of greater financial savings and security.

There, however, is a common argument that the retail sector has much more in store for women in terms of styles, discounts, and other goodies. In any store, one would mainly find women’s clothing and accessories on sale. Although this is true, the harsh reality of it doesn’t comply with the popular beliefs of women getting the best of everything. Much like other tools of capitalism, attraction is another deadly tool mostly used on women. This is a strategy used to attract women and make them buy more, hence save less. 

It is a common thing to hear that many companies force women to dress up in certain ways. The most common occurrence is women being instructed to wear high-heels and stilettos to work. This takes a heavy toll on their physical health as well as their expenses. Apart from this, women are much more subjected to social pressures, than men. There is a requirement for them to look a certain way, behave a certain way, walk, talk, and even eat in a definitive manner.

According to the UN Women database, approximately 1.5 billion people living on just $1 a day or even less are women.

The medical industry is also a part of the capitalist structure and thus is sexist in nature. Time and again, there have been cases in which doctors have not responded seriously to women talking about their health issues. Women are less likely to be given a CPR in cases of emergency, than men. Women have also faced serious health scares due to being misdiagnosed by doctors. Such grave situations and repeated visits to the clinic for correct treatment cost women much more, than men.

Apart from all the aforementioned factors, another rather weird factor that determines women’s marginalisation within capitalism is living costs. It has been noted that in several places, women need to pay more for the same amenities that men have to pay for. There are numerous places that demand a higher rate of monthly rent and security deposit money from women than they demand from men. This is, however, in addition to the fact that in several societies women still do not have access to land and property.

In some of the big cities in India,  single, working women have a terribly hard time finding a place to stay alone. Traditional and sexist landlords cannot come to terms with the idea that women have the right to stay alone and earn a lining for themselves. Hence, numerous women in India are hesitant to switch to better work opportunities, in fear of whether they can acquire an independent space to live in. This deters their career plans and journey, leading to a downward sliding graph in terms of their monetary savings, independence and security.

This article makes it evident that ‘Feminisation of Poverty’ is real and is taking over the world rather quickly. It is a vital requirement of the hour to understand why certain companies and institutions function the way they do. That capitalism and patriarchy are hand-in-glove, is confirmed by the relevance of factors like the ‘Pink Tax’. Only a holistic understanding of the system can lead to a positive change in the decades to come.


Marxists Archive

Research Gate

United Nations


Pink Tax

The Guardian


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