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201 CHAPTER 12 Examining the Role of Women in Alleviating Poverty Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju INTRODUCTION Poverty has been categorised into income poverty and human poverty (UNDP Poverty Report cited by Weisfeld-Adams and Andrzejewski, 2008).1 The UNDP Poverty Report further defines income poverty solely based on levels of monetary income and uses the criteria used by the World Bank which states that people living on less than US$1 per day are living in extreme poverty, and people who earn less than US$2 a day are in moderate poverty. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live in absolute poverty today. Human poverty, on the other hand, has been defined as deprivation on both material and social levels such as lack of proper diet, clothing, shelter, employment, participation in social institutions (clinics, land for farming, credit facilities, etc) and education2 . It is from this definition that The Hunger Project reports: Hunger and poverty are powerful but familiar terms. Everyone knows what they mean, yet, they evoke different images for everyone. Even major international organisations mandated to alleviate hunger and poverty use a variety of interpretations. Poverty causes hunger. Not every poor person is hungry, but almost all hungry people are poor. Millions live with hunger and malnourishment because they simply cannot afford to buy enough food, cannot afford nutritious foods or cannot afford the farming supplies they need to grow enough good food of their own. Hunger can be viewed as a dimension of extreme poverty. It is often called the most severe and critical manifestation of poverty.3 The United Nations Development Programme, has defined poverty by its characteristics or what they term poverty pointers: proportion of population below $1 per day; poverty gap ratio; share of poorest quintile in national consumption; growth rate of GDP per person employed; 202 CHAPTER 12 employment-to-population ratio; proportion of employed people living below $1 (PPP) per day; proportion of own-account and contributing family workers in total employment; prevalence of underweight children under- five years of age, and proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption.4 From the above definitions it is clear that poverty is not only lack of enough income but also deprivation from basic education, lack of knowledge, health care, water and all other basic amenities. To alleviate poverty therefore requires strategies that attempt to address all the above. The heads of states of 33 African countries committed in 2000 to reducing extreme poverty and meeting certain targets by 2015.5 The African Union also declared 2010–2020 as the ‘African Women’s Decade’ with the theme of ‘a grassroots approach to gender equality and women’s empowerment’. A core focus is agriculture and food security, and the objectives set out are to increase women’s access to land, farm inputs, credit and technology, while improving access to markets. AU member states have signed up to the programme’s goals and are, they claim, to be driving the policies at home.6 The role of governments, the private sector and NGOs can be to positively facilitate the designing of policies and programmes in a holistic fashion in promoting the role of women in solving national problems and addressing women’s productive and reproductive roles relating to agriculture and food security. This paper analyses the causes of poverty in Africa, its impact and the various attempts African women have made to mitigate this scourge. It concludes by arguing that the adoption of supportive national and local development policies that support cooperatives can enhance food security and alleviate poverty. THE GENERAL CAUSES OF POVERTY It is important for us to understand what the general causes of poverty are especially in Africa, a well resourced continent (Figure: 1). Poverty is caused by lack of productive employment and decent work; high food prices; vulnerability to climate change; weak institutional capacity in con- flict and post conflict areas; rapid urbanisation; low agricultural production especially cereals and legumes; unequal distribution of property rights especially for women farmers (no level ground for production); poor/no link between research/ extension/ producers; colonialism and corruption; poor planning (no well defined policies, poor implementation of policies and plans; and lack of monitoring and evaluation of executed projects).7, 8, 9 The United Nations Women (2011) reporting facts and figures on rural women reveal that estimates suggest that if women had the same access to 203 EXAMINING THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN ALLEVIATING POVERTY productive...


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