The "feminization" of poverty is a new phenomenon, observed in most of the countries of the third world, that is beginning to be detected in developed countries as well. The figures show more women than men in the poorest strata of the population. At the same time, greater demands are made on women in a "flexible" or deregulated labour market and they are paid less. Seasonal work in the exporting agricultural economies in the third world is generally done by women. Jobs in the garment industry, growing day by day, are mainly done by women. The "delocation" of industry very often means the "feminization" of labour, as a way of bringing down costs. There are situations of open violation of the rights of women, the rights of workers, economic, social and cultural rights, and thus of human rights.
The Social Development Summit (Copenhagen, 1994) formally recognized that women are consistently the group most affected by poverty and unemployment. 70 percent of the world's 1.2 billion poor are women. Since 1975, the number of women living in extreme poverty has grow by 50 percent, while the number of men in the same condition increased by 30 percent.
In 1994 it was reported that as the Soviet system collapses, so does the incidence of female poverty increase. In Moscow, 70% of the newly unemployed are women between the ages of 45 and 55. They face discrimination in employment because they are too old or that their maternal responsibilities made them unreliable workers. On the streets of Moscow, an overwhelming number of peddlers are older women and young mothers.
Income distribution is commonly measured by household and thus conceals the situation of discrimination generally encountered by women. Recent studies have shown that women "heads of household" are among those in situations of greatest disadvantage and poverty. In the third world the households in which the woman is the only source of support for the children amount to nearly 20%. There are countries in Latin America in which this situation is growing very rapidly, possibly related to the internationalization of economies.