Glass Ceilings and Iron Bars: Women, Gender, and Poverty in the Post-2015 Development Agenda


  • Susan Murphy Assistant Professor in Development Practice Programme Coordinator - TCD UCD Masters in Development Practice School of Natural Science Rm 1.3 Centre for the Environment Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland



Gender relations, Women, Transitory poverty, Structural poverty, Social norms, Human agency, Dependence, Domination, Justice


This paper argues that it is necessary to focus on gender rather than exclusively on women in discussions on global poverty eradication. It argues firstly, that the drivers of poverty are complex and multifaceted leading to a least two different forms of deprivation – transitory and structural poverty – each requiring different forms of analysis and treatment. Transitory poverty can arise as a consequence of an event or shock that would diminish an individual’s capacity to retain or secure employment and where a State lacks an appropriate form of social protection. Structural poverty, on the other hand, arises where groups are excluded from the workforce on a more permanent basis due to a wide variety of factors of discrimination such as sex, race, ethnicity, and age. Focusing on the sex of an individual alone cannot explain why some are more likely to experience different forms of poverty than others. Policies that protect women against transitory poverty, such as care related allowances, are not sufficient to eradicate structural poverty. Secondly, structural poverty prompts an examination of gender roles and relations. Unlike the category of ‘women’, the concept of gender demands consideration of a wider range of intersecting factors that influence life chances. The structure of contemporary gender relations, where women continue to experience higher levels of violence, and carry the greatest burden of responsibility for non-market based production activities, create the social conditions where domination and dependence thrive, and where persistently high rates of poverty seem inevitable. Such circumstances are generated by human agency. Thus, thirdly, it argues that these circumstances can and should be changed through human action. Knowledge of these circumstances gives rise to moral obligations for both men and women to avoid upholding values and practices that lead to domination and dependence as a matter of basic justice.


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