From email@example.com Mon Oct 2 14:00:49 2000
Poverty Is a Feminine Noun
By Néfer Muñoz, IPS, 30 September 2000
SAN JOSE, Sep 29 (IPS) - Maria, a peasant living in a small town in northern Costa Rica, rises every day at one o'clock in the morning, prepares tortillas to sell to her neighbours, spends most of the day washing and ironing their clothes and goes to bed at nine o'clock in the evening, earning barely enough to get by.
She is among the 45,000 women heads of household in her country who, because of scarce study or work opportunities, are victims of a process that has accelerated in the last 10 years, which experts have dubbed the "feminisation of poverty."
The impoverishment of Costa Rican women has intensified throughout the last decade, to the point that they earn significantly less than men despite working many more hours, according to specialists consulted by IPS.
"We work more hours than men but we do not receive more money," said Grace Prada, head of the Women's Studies department at the state-run National University.
>From the gender perspective, there are two types of human activity: productive and reproductive, Prada told IPS.
Productive activities, which involve the production of goods and services, are performed by men as well as women, but reproductive activities, which are those related to domestic life, continue to be the nearly exclusive domain of women.
In Costa Rica, 50.5 percent of the 3.4 million inhabitants are women and it is estimated that nearly half of them face employment problems, whether in the city or in rural areas.
A research team led by Prada has gathered extensive data on the situation of Costa Rican women, and concluded that the social and economic gender gaps continue to expand.
The number of women heads of household grew 57 percent between 1986 and 1996, while the number of homes in which a male is the principal financial provider rose just eight percent in that period, says a study by the Institute of Social Assistance.
Prada explained that the difference between poverty among women and among men is that the female population is generally more vulnerable to its negative effects. In Costa Rica - as in the rest of Latin America - women have traditionally had to depend on others in order to survive economically.
"Let's think for a moment about the women in our families. Most dedicated their lives to reproductive duties. How many of them have their own resources, accumulated capital or pensions?" said the expert.
A study by the governmental Institute of Social Studies in Population (IDESPO) indicates that, on average, men in Costa Rica earn 40 percent more than women, a phenomenon due in large part to the fact that women hold lower-status jobs.
IDESPO research also shows that women generally do no receive adequate training to compete on the labour market. This is evident in that just 32 percent of women in the workforce hold service- related positions, 16 percent of which are in retail and sales and 16 percent in the professional, technical and clerical spheres.
"Women have always received the lower-paying jobs, but now we are beginning to be aware of the situation thanks to this type of study," Costa Rica's Vice-President Elizabeth Odio told IPS.
Society must realise that poverty among women contributes to the failure of the country to achieve greater development and, as such, despite economic limitations, it is essential to provide them with greater educational opportunities, she added.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), meanwhile, stresses that women around the world are facing a crisis of domestic abuse in addition to the labour and economic discrimination.
"We estimate that one of three women in the world will suffer at least one act of domestic violence in her lifetime," said Patricia Salgado, UNFPA official in Costa Rica.
It is essential that men and women create an alliance that originates in the home, the community in the nation, she said.
Salgado emphasised the need to establish policies that combat the "feminisation of poverty," saying the inequality of men and women is one of the principal barriers to human development. (END/IPS/tra-so/nms/dm/ld/00)
Origin: Montevideo/WOMEN/DEVELOPMENT-COSTA RICA/
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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