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The 'feminisation of poverty' in Costa Rica: To what extent a conundrum?

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Quantitative data from Costa Rica suggest that poverty is 'feminising', especially in respect of female-headed households, who, since the early 1990s, have constituted a progressively greater share of the population classified as poor. This presents something of a conundrum given significant attempts on the part of the state to promote gender equality and to direct public expenditure to low-income women. Some light on this apparent paradox is shed by qualitative fieldwork undertaken in Guanacaste province where female headship seems to have become a more viable, and sometimes, preferred, option among women on account of its role in enhancing well-being. This is largely on account of social and legal changes that have contributed to making women less inclined to tolerate gender inequalities at the domestic level. The findings underline the importance of embracing gendered subjectivities in analyses of the 'feminisation of poverty' and invite caution about the latter being a unilaterally negative phenomenon.

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