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The first of the policy presentations was today, and the topic was on the Special Food Allowance policy. My peers did an excellent job presenting the information using a feminist analysis of poverty as the framework for the policy. They brought up a number of points to think about: 1) that something as seemingly simple as nutrition is actually a class issue that needs to be addressed; 2) we can look at malnourishment as a type of violence; 3) the feminization of poverty is a big issue for feminists and for workers in the VAW field.

A definition of the feminization of poverty:

“The term “feminization of poverty,” coined in the 1970s by Diana Pearce, refers to the concentration of poverty among women, particularly female-headed households. However, the feminization of poverty, as a lived reality, represents something larger than simply a lack of income or a state of financial need for women. While the very definition of poverty implies the inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, or shelter, being poor also implies the absence of choice, the denial of opportunity, the inability to achieve life goals, and ultimately the loss of hope. Thus, the phenomenon of a feminized poverty extends beyond the economic domains of income and material needs to the core of individual and family life.” Source: YWCA Dallas, Megan Thibos, Danielle Lavin-Loucks, Marcus Martin, http://www.ywcadallas.org/documents/advocacy/FeminizationofPoverty.pdf.

This is a very thorough definition which very much goes beyond the basic understanding that women disproportionately live in poverty compared to men, to show that living in poverty, and being a woman, also adversely affects other areas of women’s lives (choice, rights, goals, security…). I was curious to inquire further into the causes of the feminization of poverty. According to Wikipedia, there are several contributing factors to the feminization of poverty:
a) the changing composition/structure of families, with many single-mother households
b) family organization (gender roles regulating the control over household resources)
c) inequality in access to public services (eg: health care)
d) labor market inequalities
e) constraints in public life (eg: discrimination in the judiciary system, in political sphere, etc).

These factors get further complicated for racialized and immigrant women who may be facing: racial discrimination and citizenship status issues (limited number of jobs that will employ non-citizens, and therefore these jobs tend to lack security, adequate pay, physical safety, and benefits).

Of course this is an issue for feminists and for counsellors in the VAW field. As a counsellor, working with a woman who is living with an abusive partner, I need to be aware of the fact that many women living in abusive situations can often have very little financial resources of their own. Abusive partners can oftentimes (though not in all cases) dominate their partners not only physically, but also financially (among many other ways). Even if a woman earns wages through a job of her own, her partner might demand she give up her earnings. Therefore, if my client chooses to leave the abusive situation, as a counsellor I need to be aware that she might be leaving with nothing, and I need to be prepared to have resources for her that will help her secure funds or a job, keeping in mind that the feminization of poverty greater restricts the ability for women to escape the state of poverty.

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