Nursing and the Impact of Worldwide Poverty

Barbara Sheer, DNSc, FNP-C, FAANP


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2007;7(3) 

In This Article

Effects Upon Women and Children

A disproportionate burden of poverty is experienced by women and children. Women are often prohibited from education and are burdened by being the sole provider and caregiver for families. They are not able to make a living wage, are disenfranchised, and have limited access to credit and land. Because their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are not being met, children are more vulnerable to disease and premature death from preventable causes. If they do survive, they continue the cycle of poverty, being uneducated and unemployed. A map provided by the UN Environmental Program illustrates the gender disparities in education and empowerment.[5] The greatest burden of the effects of poverty on women and children occurs in the African nations.

Women and children are also affected by discrimination within the legal system. The poor often have no legal identity. They may lack birth certificates, legal addresses, or deeds to their shacks. They live in fear of eviction and have no legal recourse. The Commission on Legal Empowerment of the poor was established in 2005.[6] The commission is a UN-affiliated initiative cochaired by Madeline Albright, PhD, 64th US Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, January 23, 1997 to January 20, 2001, and former US Ambassador to the UN. The commission is working with nations to develop incentives to enable legal recognition. Only with a change in the legal systems will women and children be empowered to attain a higher standard of living.

The development of a women's agency was suggested by Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, as a way to address the gender inequity that is partially responsible for the epidemic of poverty. The proposed new agency will be headed by an Under-Secretary General and provide assistance that governments need to effectively mainstream gender into policy and programs. The agency is crucial to combating global poverty and its effects. To support healthy environments, women need to be educated, empowered, and strengthened. This has been recognized, but accomplishments are occurring in small increments. In 2003, when speaking about educating African girls, Kofi Annan, MS, 7th UN Secretary General, January 1997 to January 2007, said to educate girls is to reduce poverty.[7]

The existing bodies within the UN that are responsible for addressing women's issues are:

  • Relatively small;

  • Lack autonomy;

  • Have little funding; and

  • Are considered at a low priority level.

If the MDG are to be reached, gender inequities need to be addressed at a higher level.


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