All Africa’s women poorer than 22 richest men

All work and no pay: Unpaid care work done by women is worth $10.8 trillion (£8.3m) globally.

Is this progress? Is 22 better than two? Oxfam released shocking statistics, yesterday, on world inequality and told leaders to tax the rich. But some experts say that this is too pessimistic.

This week, the world’s rich and powerful are gathered at a Swiss ski resort for the World Economic Forum to decide the rules of the global economy.

That economy, says Oxfam’s chief executive, is “just plain sexist”.

The charity has revealed striking data showing how unequal the world has become. The 22 richest men have more wealth combined than all the women in Africa.

Oxfam says governments are not taking seriously the billions of hours of unpaid cooking, cleaning and care work women do every day all over the world.

Instead, tax breaks for billionaires and public spending cuts are making inequality worse.

Wealth is not distributed equally between the world’s 7.8 billion people. The richest 1% have twice as much as the bottom 6.9 billion. And if you live in Africa, you are much more likely to be poor. The continent is home to 70% of the world’s poor, but less than 17% of the global population.

But why does wealth inequality hit women harder?

Oxfam says women in Africa do five times more unpaid care work than men. Girls helping at home are less likely to go to school and so, from a young age, they are trapped in unpaid work.

Oxfam is telling world leaders at Davos that it is “time to care about care work”. A tiny 0.5% wealth tax on the richest 1% would create 117 million jobs in education, health and elderly care to benefit the world’s poorest women.

The facts are shocking – but is it news? Society has always been unequal and men have always benefited.

Two thousand years ago, Emperor Augustus owned a fifth of all the wealth in the Roman Empire. In the 11th Century, Chinese Emperor Shenzong had 30% of the world’s wealth.

And historians believe the richest man who ever lived was an African: Mansa Musa, King of Timbuktu, at the height of the West African gold trade in the 14th Century.

Besides, there’s good news coming out of Africa. Poverty is, for the first time, decreasing across the continent and it has the fastest-growing middle-class in the world. And supporters of the current economic system say that the philanthropy of billionaires like Bill Gates is pouring money into Africa.

But is change coming fast enough? Oxfam says the climate crisis, an ageing population and underfunded public services are making life much harder for poor women across the world.

So, is this progress?

Glass half full

Some say these statistics are misleading. Charities like Oxfam want to paint a bleak picture because their business is to raise money to send to Africa. They release eye-catching statistics to grab media and political attention. But that doesn’t make it news. There have always been the very rich and the very poor, but the story in Africa is of progress not decline.

Don’t listen to this, others protest. How can we fail to be angry when so few men own so much wealth? Think how many millions of lives could be transformed if the very rich were taxed a little more. Girls who walk miles to fetch water every day could go to school; women who look after children and the elderly could be paid for their work.

You Decide

  1. Could you live on less than a dollar (77p) a day?
  2. Would taxing the rich end wealth inequality?

Activities

  1. Women in Africa spend up to 14 hours a day cooking and cleaning. Make a list of all the technology and devices in your home that make these jobs quicker.
  2. In groups of three, prepare a list of five, key demands to make to the World Economic Forum to improve the lives of poor women in Africa. Use the Expert Links to help you.

Some People Say...

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), former president of South Africa

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Every January, leaders meet at the World Economic Forum and, every January, Oxfam releases data showing the growing problem of inequality. Who turns up at the forum is always controversial. This year, 17-year-old activist Greta Thunberg will attend, pushing for action on the climate crisis. But some leaders see it as a waste of time. Donald Trump failed to show up last year and, this year, Boris Johnson has banned his ministers from going. He says they have more important things to do.
What do we not know?
Inequality is a very difficult problem to solve. It has many causes and not all of them can be stopped by simply spending more money. War, corruption and natural disasters all make it harder to provide basic services like water, electricity, schools and hospitals. The climate crisis hit some communities worse than others, forcing women to walk further to fetch water. Different cultures have different views about what is acceptable work for women, which can make improving their lives difficult.

Word Watch

World Economic Forum
An international organisation that holds an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Founded in 1971, WEF aims to improve the state of the world by bringing politicians, academics and business leaders together.
Oxfam
A charity that focuses on ending poverty.
Tax breaks
Governments argue that cutting tax for companies and the very wealthy encourages them to do business, helping to grow the economy.
Timbuktu
In modern-day Mali, West Africa.
Philanthropy
The voluntary donation of large amounts of money by the very wealthy to improve the lives of others.
Bill Gates
The founder of Microsoft, Gates is currently the richest person in the world, worth $110 billion (£85bn).

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