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Feminization of Poverty and Women’s Leadership

March 08, 2024

Rangita de Silva de Alwis
Rangita de Silva de Alwis

Rangita de Silva de Alwis encourages UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 2024 anti-poverty policymakers to “give women’s leadership and decision-making a fresh look.”

For the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Senior Adjunct Professor of Global Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, emphasizes the importance of increasing opportunity and capabilities for women in addition to increasing wealth.

“Poverty is often the face of a woman,” writes de Silva de Alwis. “The hope is that this year’s CSW will help make women the face of the anti-poverty solutions.”

De Silva de Alwis is a globally recognized international women’s rights expert and Member-Elect to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Treaty Body Expert Committee (2023-2026). At Penn Carey Law, she is the Associate Dean of International Affairs and teaches classes in international women’s rights; women, law, and leadership; and the Policy Lab, including the Policy Lab on AI and Bias.

She also directs the Global Institute for Human Rights.

From the article:

The theme of this year’s annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is “accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective.”

Poverty has historically been measured in monetary terms, such as wage disparity and GDP per capita. However, access to resources, opportunity, and a role in decision-making should be part of the poverty calculus as well. According to the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law Report 2023, only 14 countries in the world offer women as many legal protections as men. Several countries still retain male-only heads of household laws and husband obedience laws. Meanwhile, the share of women in legislative assemblies globally hovers around 25 percent. This stark inequality in law and political voice contributes to poverty among women. During its meeting from March 11-22, therefore, CSW must focus not only on increasing wealth, but also on increasing opportunity and capabilities for women.

The CSW must, then, focus not only on increasing wealth, but also on increasing opportunity and capabilities for women.

Recognition of the linkages among poverty, opportunity, and capabilities can be found across UN documents. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights defines poverty as a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of resources and capabilities. Sustainable Development Goal Target 5.5 calls upon governments to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic, and public life.”

Read the full piece.