Women at high risk of poverty in rural Africa

October 15, 2017

October 15 is the UN International Day of Rural Women, highlighting the critical role of rural women in eradicating poverty. PEP findings from four African countries identify key issues and poverty reduction strategies involving local women in rural areas. 

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The United Nations (UN) recognises that women in rural areas play essential roles for their family’s food security, education opportunities and healthcare. However, rural women are considerably more likely to live in poverty. Through the International Day of Rural Women on October 15 of each year, the UN highlights the critical role of rural women in “enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

Women, particularly rural women, have an especially high probability of being poor according to PEP findings in Kenya and in Niger.

The results from a study led by local PEP researchers show that 44% of all women in Kenya are poor in at least one dimension, and that 95% of multi-dimensionally poor women live in rural areas. Furthermore, the findings indicate that the poorest women are from families that are the most deprived of access to water, sanitation and shelter. The results from Niger concur, adding that such deprivation is particularly common in rural areas.

Families and poverty

Married, divorced or widowed women in Niger are more likely to be health-poor than (unmarried) women living with their parents. Additionally, women in polygamous families are more likely to be money and health poor, compared to women in monogamous relationships.

As the number of children under five increases so does the probability of being poor for Kenyan households. The research team suggests this may because adults, women in particular, will spend more time looking after the children and less time on wage work, lowering the family’s income and consumption.

Reducing poverty

The studies from Kenya and Niger agree that to reduce (female) rural poverty, community-level policies are needed. Improving access to electricity, sanitation facilities and clean water are highlighted as key infrastructure developments that can help reduce asset and health poverty. 

A number of PEP studies have investigated poverty reduction policies, particularly relating to female entrepreneurship and to education. Women in Kenya who have completed secondary or post-secondary education are much less likely to be poor than those who have no education or only primary education. Similarly, findings from a PEP project in Cameroon suggest that if women’s average education level was brought up to that of men, the average income for women would increase by 12%. Meanwhile, findings from Ethiopia indicate that by supporting female-owned micro and small enterprises, the government can reduce overall poverty in the country. 


Find out more about the projects featured
Country Project Title Publications
Kenya PMMA-11330 Multidimensional Poverty in Kenya: Analysis of Maternal and Child Wellbeing

Working Paper 2011-12

Policy Brief 80

Niger PMMA-12286 Analyse de l'évolution de l'état sanitaire et du bien-être de l'enfant et de la femme au Niger avec le Plan de Développement Sanitaire 2005-2009 (French)

Working Paper 2014-07

Cameroon PMMA-11321 Sources of Poverty, Inequality and Gender Disparities in Cameroon

Working Paper 2011-15

Policy Brief 84 

Ethiopia MPIA-12849 The role of micro and small enterprises in reducing unemployment and poverty in Ethiopia

Working Paper 2017-18

Policy brief 165 

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