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Gender aspects of poverty – the feminization of poverty in Mozambique

© UNICEF Mozambique
Women are disadvantaged in the economy and are predominantly engaged in subsistence agriculture than generates little or no cash.

MAPUTO, Mozambique, 7 April 2011 – Every year on 7 April, Mozambique celebrates National Women’s Day in memory of Josina Machel, a national heroine and freedom fighter who died on that date. The day is a celebration of the nation’s women and a time to acknowledge their contributions to society, promote their rights and support their continued struggle for gender equality. It is also an occasion to take stock of the current situation and reflect on where we are.

According to a forthcoming study* undertaken by UNICEF, poverty reduction in Mozambique has not equally benefitted all segments of the population. Poverty has decreased much more significantly among male-headed households than among female-headed households. This also has implications for orphaned children, as they are more often found in female-headed households.

“We see a clear feminization of poverty in Mozambique,” says Lisa Kurbiel, a Senior Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF, who was closely involved with the study.

“Women are disadvantaged by being more heavily involved in lower-earning areas of the economy, by having fewer opportunities to generate income and by encountering more social obstacles to employment than men,” says Kurbiel.

Recent studies indicate that the trend of feminization of poverty in Mozambique is at least partly due to women being more heavily involved in the agricultural sector than men (89 per cent versus 68 per cent). At the same time, women have less access to education, fewer opportunities for formal employment, lower incomes and fewer opportunities to diversify their income sources. Studies have also shown that female-headed households have reduced ‘social access’ as a consequence of the predominantly patriarchal societal structures in Mozambique.

© UNICEF Mozambique
Women encounter social obstacles to employment, as men are seen as breadwinners and have easier access to income generating activities.

The trend towards feminization of poverty is supported by the perceptions of change held by male- and female-headed households respectively. A higher proportion of female- than male-headed households believe that their situation has deteriorated over the last five years. At the same time, the perception of deteriorating conditions is more pronounced among rural than among urban female-headed households.

 Women’s participation in the workforce is slightly higher than men’s. Women work primarily in the subsistence agriculture in rural areas, where women make up 62 per cent of the working population, while men predominate in all the other major sectors of the economy, where earning potential is higher. Women in the labor force also have lower educational levels than men, with 15 per cent of men in the workforce having obtained upper primary education or better, compared with only five per cent of women. 

Although women make up the majority of the economically active population, they are predominantly engaged in the agricultural sector, where they are mostly engaged in household production with limited surplus. Where income generating opportunities exist, men tend to be more likely to access these opportunities and derive benefits from them. In urban areas, women are more likely to depend on the informal sector due to low entry requirements and the fact that access to formal jobs is largely controlled by social capital and contacts that favor men.

* ‘Child Poverty and Disparities in Mozambique 2010’. United Nations Mozambique. Forthcoming.

For more information, please contact:

Arild Drivdal, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email:

Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email:



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