Cover Image
close this bookBreaking the Barriers - Women and the Elimination of World Poverty (DFID, 1999, 24 p.)
close this folderWomen's inequality and world poverty
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOur Policy
View the documentPartnerships


United Nations estimates suggest: that up to 70% of the world's poor are female.

Gender discrimination is the world ''s most widespread form of social exclusion.

Women's inequality is a key-obstacle to development and a major cause of social injustice.

Women in the developing world play a vital role. They manage community resources, help protect the environment, maintain peace and keep societies together. They make up most of the labour force. They are responsible for bringing up children and passing on knowledge to the next generation. But most women's work is unpaid and unacknowledged.

Women are poorly represented in positions of power. Their opportunities to act on their own behalf are often severely limited. Where they do try to assert their rights, they are often met with strong opposition and sometimes intimidation and violence.

Calls for change in the social, economic, and political relations between the sexes and an end to gender discrimination are being voiced increasingly strongly. These calls have been echoed in international meetings and agreements, most notably the Global Platform for Action agreed at the I995 World Conference on Women at Beijing. They are also reflected in the International Development Targets for the 2Ist Century.

The Department for International Development (DFID) is committed to women's equality. World poverty cannot be eliminated without it. This booklet describes our policy and gives examples of how we put this into practice. We are making good progress, but there is still a long way to go and many lessons to be learned.

Our Policy

The UK Government's I997 White Paper on International Development says that a commitment to equality between women and men "is an integral and essential part of our approach to development", that it is "..based on principles of human rights and social justice", and that poverty cannot be eliminated "..until men and women have equal access to the resources and services necessary to achieve their individual potential and fulfil their obligations to household, community and, more broadly, society".

The UK's policy directly supports the Global Platform for Action agreed at the 1995 World Conference on Women at Beijing. It recognises that women and men, boys and girls, often have different needs, and that all have the right to share in the benefits of development.

We address gender inequalities across the whole range of our programme, in all sectors and at all levels. Although we support specific initiatives exclusively aimed at meeting women's needs, our "twin-track" approach means we promote gender equality in as many of our mainstream activities as we can. This ensures that a concern for women is at the heart, rather than in the margins, of our programme. Our spending on women's equality is rising year by year.

A twin-track approach

Addressing inequalities between women and men in all strategic areas of our work

Supporting specific initiatives to enhance women's empowerment

Gender equality


We are building effective partnerships for gender equality with the international community, other donors, partner governments, civil society organisations, and the private sector. We also recognise that local communities must take a lead.

The Global Platform for Action

Before the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, most efforts focused on addressing women's practical needs, and reducing the heavy burden placed on them by poverty and their multiple roles in the economy, the community, and at home.

After Beijing a more strategic approach has emerged which promotes full equality between women and men in all spheres of life, addressing the causes as well as the consequences of inequality and aiming to bring about fundamental changes in gender relations.