Assignment3: Feminization of Poverty
Feminizationof poverty is a term used to describe the growing number of womenliving in poverty. The term was coined by Diana Pearce afteranalyzing the American population data from the 1950s to the 1970sthat revealed the majority of the poor were women. Further analysisof the global population data showed that two-thirds of the globalpoor aged above 16 was made up of women (Pearce 1978). Specifically,the term emphasizes the strengthening link between poverty andfemininity. Women, as individuals or as heads of households are morelikely to be living in poverty compared to men. Poverty, other thanhaving a huge negative impact on the quality of life, has a netnegative impact on education, health, life expectancy, fertility,social and economic engagement among others (ibid). One study inCanada revealed that poverty has a “negative influence on studentbehavior, achievement and retention in school” (Ferguson, Boviard &Mueller, 2007, p. 701). Other studies have also shown the potentialof education in improving employment opportunities and socioeconomicstatus of individuals and even societies (Williams,2010 Zanten,2005). However, inequality of opportunity for education impliesunequal access to employment opportunities and diminishedopportunities to change socioeconomic status (SES). This paperdiscusses the issues surrounding the so-called feminization ofpoverty and the impact of this process on equality of opportunity foreducation.
Naturally,most people would associate poverty with developing countries.However, the issue is still relevant and alive in developed countriessuch as Canada. While Canada has often portrayed herself as theepitome of multiculturalism and equality, there remains a plethora ofproblems particularly in inequality, education and human rights(Carr, 2008). Both the federal and provincial governments haveenacted several policies to address these problems. One of them isthe Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which recognizeseducation as a right for all. Another one is the Canadian House ofCommons resolution to end child poverty by 2000. These policies havehad mixed results. As of 2003, way past the 2000 deadline on childrenpoverty eradication, one child out of six was living in poverty(Ferguson et al., 2007). Other policies targeting First Nations andminority groups have not yielded the desired results. For instance,the First Nations have often complained about an unresponsiveeducation system and unequal funding of school districts that affectsthe quality of education (Wotherspoon, 2013). Carr (p. 5) faults thegovernment and equates the situation to a “waltz” whereby theissue of equality in education is addressed by floating policies thatare not permanent and hence are swept aside as soon as seemingly moreimportant issues crop up.
Genderequality is another area that the set goals have remained elusive.Access to opportunity for education and economic engagement varyacross the gender divide. In 2014, the World Economic Forum (WEF)ranked Canada position 19 out of 142 countries on gender equality. Interms of wages, the country was ranked 27thglobally. In terms of female socioeconomic empowerment andinvolvement as legislators, corporate executives and generalmanagers, the country was ranked 4thglobally (Radia 2014). This male domination has created supposedly“malestream” education, health and social policies that favor menwith women issues relegated to a lower level (Gaskell 1993, p. 163).The ranking thus shows that significant progress has been made insome areas, but more needs to be done. The fact that Canadian womencontinue to receive a considerably lower wage than their malecounterparts working in the same position and with similarqualifications explain why women are poorer than men on average(Radia 2014). The SES of any parent(s) has a direct impact on accessto quality education for the children. Wotherspoon (2013) cites onestudy by Siedule (1992) which compared family structure to academicperformance of children. Findings showed children from children fromwell-up white families where both parents were present had over fiveyears advantage over children from poor minority families. Thereforefor minority women in Canada, their disadvantage not only emanatesfrom their gender but also from their ethnicity and SES.Consequently, poverty is reproduced mainly for women.
Similarly,the Canadian education system favors the reproduction of poverty. Aresearch by Finnie and Mueller (2008) assessing how nontraditionaland tradition determinants of access to education such as familyincome and parental education influence access to post-secondaryeducation (PSE) made eye-opening findings. Parental income andeducation level were positively linked to access to PSE for thechildren. Parental income levels provided the means to invest inchildren’s education while a parent’s education level determinedthe value attached to education and willingness to invest in it.Understandably, children from well up families face more realisticopportunities to attain higher education and better employmentopportunities ceterisparibus.In fact, “it is not the ability or motivation of the individual,but rather the position that his or her parents occupy” thatinfluences how he/she benefits from his/her education (Young 1990, p.165). Therefore, children from poor backgrounds end up with littleeducation and fewer employment opportunities than their peers fromwealthy backgrounds that enable the continuation of poverty.
Additionally,children from poor families perform poorly academically compared tothose from well-up families. The performance is not only related tothe economic capacity and willingness to invest in education but alsoother issues. Studies have shown that poverty decreases a child’sreadiness for school at the appropriate age. This readiness requires“physical well-being and appropriate motor development, emotionalhealth and a positive approach to new experiences, age-appropriatesocial knowledge and competence, age-appropriate language skills, andage-appropriate general knowledge and cognitive skills” (Fergusonet al., 2007, p. 701). Specifically, the incidence, depth, duration,timing (relative to a child’s age) of poverty and communitycharacteristics all combine to influence the general development ofchildren and readiness for school. Studies in Canada have shown thatchildren from families living in poverty score lower in vocabularyand communication, knowledge on numbers and cooperative play thanchildren from well-to-do families. The situation further places girlsfrom poor backgrounds on a path of continuous poverty.
Whileeducation is viewed as a factor that promotes gender equality,educators are not well prepared and equipped to address equalitymatters at school. With females and whites over-represented in thelower grade classes, the impact on education is likely to beimbalanced (Carr 2008). The hidden curriculum could in fact, teachgirls to aim low or in the case of non-whites inform them thatteaching as a career is not suitable for them. Furthermore, thetraining and attitudes of these teachers do not aid the push forequality. One elementary school teacher laments that “Even thoughwe have an equity representative in our school, no one talks aboutthe issue or really understands it or how we need to accommodatedifferent groups to provide equality in education” (Wotherspoon,2006, p. 684). On racial imbalance among teachers, Dei, Karumanchery,and Karumanchery-Luik (2004) write that the whiteness of the teachersaffects education and equality. They note the dominant way of knowingand cultural perspective is used to teach students from variousethnic backgrounds irrespective of their unique needs. Again, thecurriculum itself has a dominant male worldview that is unsuitablefor the education of females (Gaskell 1993). It is thus clear thatthe education system in Canada favors men more than women because thecurriculum is made by whites and majority of them are male. Thismakes the curriculum unsuitable not only for women but also forminority groups.
Otherthan the teacher population, the Canadian society is imbalanced hencethe current gender inequality and feminization of poverty. Males andwhites dominate the government, education system, healthorganizational leadership, and businesses. This domination preventsthe society from adequately addressing poverty and equity issuesfacing minority groups and women. In particular, the education systemin terms of educators and administrators is dominated by whites. Carr(2008) says that Canada is generally dominated by “whiteness”which leads to the socioeconomic exclusion of minority groups. Ryan,Pollock and Antonelli (2009) report that the proportion of minorityteachers in Canada in 2006 was 6.2% whereas the total minoritypopulation was 16.2% of the total Canadian population. In Quebec, thefraction was smaller at 3.9% of minority teachers and a visibleminority population of 8.8% (ibid). The Bureau of Labor Statisticsplaces the number of female lawyers in Canada as of 2011 31.9% withfemale senior corporate officers being just 18.1% (Catalyst, 2014).Such numbers, though low, are an improvement over previous years.
Consequently,feminization of poverty and inequality that Canadian women face mightbe perceived as insignificant compared to issues facing women at theglobal level. Globally, women face increased cases of victimization,sexism, gender discrimination, gender violence and diminishedeconomic opportunities. Females in Canada face a different set ofchallenges. Taefi (2009) indicates that young girls are often leftout of programs and policy development even in issues meant toaddress women or the youth. Therefore, most issues affecting girls inCanada are not addressed until the girls have attained adult age.Nonetheless, there have been positive achievements over the years.Williams (2010) reports that between 1990 and 2009, the number ofwomen aged 25-54 without a high school diploma dropped from 26% tojust 9%. Over the same duration, the number of girls with PSE was 8%higher than that of boys (ibid). However, this does not mean that allwomen make it through in education.
Someof them drop out, and the negative effects of dropping out of schoolare more amplified in females than in males. Girls who drop outbefore grade 9 earn 51.5% of what men with the same education levelearn (Williams, 2010). One of the main reasons that girls drop out ofschool is unwanted pregnancies. Such pregnancies are relativelyabsent in boys further contributing to the reproduction of poverty inwomen. Among immigrant and First Nations communities, early marriagesalso contribute significantly to dropping out of school. StatisticsCanada’s 2006 data placed the number of indigenous girls with ahigh school diploma aged 15-24 at only 27.4%. Another 28% of theseFirst Nations girls dropped out of school with a quarter of themdoing so because of early pregnancies (O’Donnell& Wallace, 2011). Other factors that were attributed to droppingout among theminority population of females were poverty, social isolation, andlanguage barriers. For the visible minority, homophobia and racialdiscrimination were attributed to school absenteeism and even droppedout altogether (ibid). For those who make through schools into PSEand professional training, other problems await them.
Onesuch problem is choosing the right career according to assignedgender roles. Historically, men have been associated with the highprofile and better economically rewarding careers compared to women.Young girls tend to follow cultural and social beliefs and pursuecareers that correspond to their gender roles. Consequently, womenare over-represented in professional fields traditionally consideredfeminine. The same case applies to choosing elective subjects andcourses in high school and PSE. Typical professions perceived to befeminine include education/teaching, languages, humanities, law,social sciences, and health sciences (Girls Action Foundation, etal., 2013). Other professions such as medicine, engineering andmathematics are viewed as more masculine hence women tend to shy awayfrom them. Most of these well-paying jobs require excellence incertain subjects such as mathematics and science subjects. In thesame manner as general academic performance, performance inmathematics and sciences is influenced by SES socioeconomic status ofthe family (O’Donnell& Wallace, 2011).In the long run, the poor, majority of who are women are continuouslylocked out of well-paying careers because of their poor grades inschool.
Thehuman capital theory attempts to explain this connection betweentraining/grades and pay gap. The theory posits that people arecompensated in the workplace based on abilities and skills. Conceptsused to quantify human capital include schooling, experience, and onthe job training. Consequently, a higher level of education iscompensated in a better way than experience (Zanten, 2005). Thetheory also posits that the gender pay gap increases with increasednational economic development (Vincent,2013).In Canada economic growth and increased participation of women in thelabor has not recorded a matching increase in wages among women. Dueto gender conventions in the society, women are over-represented inpoor-paying paid jobs or entry level jobs. For instance, Wotherspoon(2013) reports that female teachers dominate elementary school andthe figures drop higher up the levels. The number of femaleuniversity lecturers and professors is arguably lower compared to thenumber of female high school teachers. In the 1990s, womenrepresented 94% of teachers from kindergarten to grade 3, 72% forgrade 4-6, 53% for grades 7-9 and 46% for grades 9-12 (ibid).Incidentally, wages increase with the grade level that teachersteach. Senior positions such as school principals and other senioradministrators were dominated by men. Does this mean that women areless capable or less talented to work in these high profile jobs andcareers?
No,women are equally capable as men. Gender as a social conventionprevents women from fully participating in occupations andprofessions that utilize their skills fully or gives them sameopportunities as men. The outcome of such a situation has been talentwastage among women after years of intensive investment in highereducation and training (Girls Action Foundation, et al., 2013). Basedon cultural, religious, personal and social beliefs, women are viewedas less capable which leads to women with great talents being deniedopportunities to apply their talents and skills alongside men. Men,who control most resources, fear competition and thus tend to denywomen equal opportunities to compete fairly. In fact, men as leadersin most some societies may promote stratification of the societyalong gender lines viewing it as “inevitable and even necessary tomaintain a high level of motivation (Young, 1990, pp. 161-162). Thisfear further exacerbates the wastage of talents which denies womensociopolitical power and economic capabilities needed to attainequality. The result is a society that whose policies are widelyinformed by men thereby making these policies somehow ineffective inaddressing issues facing women as poverty and inequality.
Itis thus clear that the buck of gender equality and education mattersrests with men. It is the responsibility of men to understand thatincreased access to opportunity for education and economicparticipation of women is most likely to have a net positive effecton society. The fear of loss of control has led to a male-dominatedsociety that develops systemic measures that suppress women. There isa need for further research into this field where the benefits ofequality are better demonstrated to gain the trust and goodwill ofmen in order to speed up the push for equality. Therefore, in orderto address equality of opportunity for education in Canada, there isa need to address the fact that feminization of poverty influencesaccess to education and performance not only among girls but alsoamong minority groups. This way, women and minority groups will havea better opportunity to improve their SES and benefit more from aneducation that recognizes and addresses their unique needs.
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