Cover Image
close this bookBreaking the Barriers - Women and the Elimination of World Poverty (DFID, 1999, 24 p.)
close this folderPoverty and sustainable livelihoods
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentWomen and Agriculture
View the documentManaging Forests
View the documentUrban Poverty
View the documentCredit and Financial Services


Women make up more of the world's poor than men. Often, their work is unrecognised and unpaid. They rarely have control over assets, such as land. This means they cannot become economically independent, and makes them particularly vulnerable in widowhood and old age.

Women need more resources and opportunities for sustainable economic and human development. We want to help improve their access to markets and jobs, make credit more readily available, and ensure that infrastructure improvements benefit women as well as men. We encourage our partners in developing countries to make sure that economic management and investment programmes take account of gender issues and urge the private sector to be more socially responsible.

We are supporting research into the effects on women of globalisation and the liberalisation of world trade. This should give us a better understanding of how women can benefit from these global developments. We are also developing a programme to support initiatives on ethical trade, socially responsible business and the promotion of core labour standards to protect women and other workers from exploitation. Child labour and the sexual exploitation of children are also growing areas of concern.

These studies are called Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPA). UK expertise helped develop PPAs in conjunction with the World Bank. They are an invaluable tool for highlighting the economic and social problems which women, as well as men, face.

Finding the causes of poverty

A poor woman in a Nairobi slum was asked what event she would change in her life if she could: she replied: "I would be born a man".

We work directly with poor people to discover the underlying causes of poverty and its consequences in people's daily lives. This enables us to develop practical ways to help and to become more responsive to poor people's needs.

Women and Agriculture

Women provide most of the agricultural labour in developing countries. Our support for both research and action to help improve rural livelihoods and the sustainable use of natural resources is increasingly focusing on the different needs of women and men.

A new project in Mozambique, for example, aims to increase household food security for poor people in Zambezia Province. Women are involved in farmer research groups, as community workers, and in a village banking scheme. Tools to ease the burden of labour-intensive farm work and reduce associated health risks to women are also being developed.

The Western and Eastern India Rainfed Farming Projects support women's practical needs, with tools, income generation, credit and savings schemes The strategic role of women in village institutions and the management of farming systems is increasingly being promoted.

We have also supported land reform initiatives, for example in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, which seek to secure women's rights to land ownership and inheritance.

Managing Forests

We are working with our partners to develop new approaches to sustainable forest management which both conserve vital natural resources and at the same time meet the needs of the poor.

Knowledge drawn from applied research is helping us understand the benefits to women and men of the sustainable use of forest products and the advantages of including people in forest management We are learning important lessons from projects in West Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Urban Poverty

We are strengthening our support to women in poor urban areas, through our many projects in India and Africa.

In Zambia for example, a new project aims to tackle poverty in low-income urban settlements around Lusaka Work is to be done through area-based community organisations and savings and loan schemes, with equal representation and benefits for women New urban poverty programmes in Kenya and Tanzania will promote an active role for women in decision making, improving basic services, and creating opportunities for economic, social, and human development.

Credit and Financial Services

Poor women find it particularly difficult to obtain credit, in spite of having a better track record than men in repaying loans Credit programmes specifically for women have recently been developed in Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Swaziland We are supporting a group of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who are working with the Vietnamese government to reduce poverty in the Ha Tinh province The programme includes a scheme for increasing women's access to credit.

In East Africa, we support organisations providing credit and other services to poor women The Kenya Women's Finance Trust is making financial services available to thousands of poor rural women in Western Kenya In Uganda, where the rural poor find it difficult to benefit from conventional banking services, a village banking project allows both women and men to save and obtain credit We are also providing technical assistance to a Tanzanian self-help company which enables poor women to lease essential equipment to start up small enterprises such as dress making and tailoring, office services, and retail food businesses.