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Exploring the “feminisation of poverty” in relation to women’s work and home-based enterprise in slums of the Global South

Sylvia Chant (Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics, London, UK)

International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship

ISSN: 1756-6266

Article publication date: 2 September 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore links between a revisionist view of the “feminisation of poverty” in developing countries and women’s work and home-based enterprise in urban slums.


The paper’s discussion of the “feminisation of poverty” draws substantially from ethnographic field research conducted in The Gambia, The Philippines and Costa Rica. This research led the author to propose the notion of a “feminisation of responsibility and/or obligation”. The latter approach draws attention to issues such as gendered disparities of labour, time and resource inputs into household livelihoods, which are often most marked in male-headed units, and are not captured in conventional referents of the “feminisation of poverty”, which are rather narrowly confined to incomes and female household headship.


An integral element of the author’s critique is that the main policy response to classic “feminisation of poverty” thinking, to date, has been to “feminise” anti-poverty initiatives such as Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) and microfinance programmes.


The paper argues that the “feminisation of poverty” compounds the tensions women already face in terms of managing unpaid reproductive and/or “volunteer” work with their economic contributions to household livelihoods, and it is in the context of urban slums, where housing, service and infrastructure deficiencies pose considerable challenges to women’s dual burdens of productive and reproductive labour. The paper emphasizes that to more effectively address gender inequality while also alleviating poverty, policy interventions sensitive to women’s multiple, time-consuming responsibilities and obligations are paramount.



The ideas relating to the “feminisation of poverty” and the “feminisation of responsibility and/or obligation” in this paper summarise research findings drawn from fieldwork funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2003-2006) (Award no. F07004R), to which the author is grateful for support. For assistance in the field, the author would like to thank Baba Njie (The Gambia), Tessie Sato, Josie Chan and Fe Largado (Philippines), and Enid Jaén Hernández, Luis Castellón Zelaya and Roberto Rojas (Costa Rica). The author would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions.


Chant, S. (2014), "Exploring the “feminisation of poverty” in relation to women’s work and home-based enterprise in slums of the Global South", International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 296-316.



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