Lina Galvez – The Social Exploitation of Women: An insidious form of poverty that hits women hardest

To truly comprehend gender inequality it is necessary to expand the factors, such as time poverty, used to analyse the situation.

Lina Gálvez is Professor of Economic History and Gender Studies at Pablo de Olavide University, Seville

Cross-posted from

Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE

El agotamiento social de las mujeres

The feminisation of poverty is a statistically proven fact. However, the gap between women and men often does not show up as particularly large, given the gender gaps in employment, income, wealth, access to credit or family inequality. First, this concerns the way poverty is measured, with the family treated as a unit free of conflict and internal discrimination. And second, with the way poverty is reduced to a monetary issue, when in fact it is multidimensional. Both of these failings stem from the limited use of gender difference in statistical sampling and social and economic analysis.

Poverty statistics measure household income as a whole and the total is divided into consumption units on the assumption that all members enjoy an equitable distribution of resources. However, it is important to remember that the family is, in Amartya Sen’s words, a place of cooperative conflicts.

Although it is true that members of a family with no income of their own benefit from access to family resources, when defining a cooperative dynamic, it is no less true that both the access to these resources and the distribution of work and time are unequal, especially with regard to gender or age. The effects of conflict, discrimination, and even violence are not factored in.

There is endless historical and contemporary evidence of the lower calories and proteins that women have access to compared with men in low-income households; or the commitments in making investments in education for families, with priority given to men; or the unequal and discriminatory distribution of household jobs, as well as the demands on time.  It is usually women and girls who are responsible for such domestic duties, taking up a considerable number of hours each day, thus limiting their participation in other activities, including those linked to their education, their participation in community affairs, time for leisure or for securing the income necessary to live a life free of poverty and social exclusion.

Poverty is a complex phenomenon involving many interconnected factors – some without measurable monetary value. That was the line of reasoning followed by Amartya Sen, with her focus on capabilities, and by Sabina Alkire and James Foster when they created the multidimensional poverty index. European public statistics have also reacted to this multi-dimensionality, producing the index of At Risk Of Poverty or social Exclusion (AROPE), for which low labour intensity and severe material deprivation are added to the monetary income indicator.

In order to measure poverty, it is essential not only to analyse the amount of income, but also to take into account wealth, opportunities for consumption, low labour intensity and the unemployment rate. At the same time account should be taken of inequality indexes, the protection offered by public policies and access to quality public services in the face of vulnerability. And, although it is often forgotten, the freedom to allocate time as one wants.

That is why we are starting to talk, even in affluent societies, of “time poverty”: some people do not have the time for rest or leisure after having fulfilled their paid and unpaid work, caring for others, studying or meeting other basic needs of life, such as personal care.

Factoring in time poverty not only allows us to see what is happening on an individual scale, but also to understand household dynamics, especially in relation to gender inequality. Moreover, time poverty allows us to see not only the lack of time available to individuals, but also the intensity of work. In particular, the reconciliation of care work with other jobs, which in time-use surveys is treated as an ancillary activity. This is a multiplicity of tasks that is particularly relevant to women and leads them to social depletion or exhaustion in their multiple roles without allowing them time to enjoy a decent life, especially when combined with the other elements of poverty. Time poverty prevents them from offering their labour on flexible terms that gives them the chance to enjoy financial autonomy, further training, and access to basic resources and services.

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