The Dimensions of Poverty

This is the third part to our series on the concept of poverty. Here Peru country manager and development expert Daniel Salazar discusses the dimensions of poverty.

On our last discussion about poverty, we saw that poverty isn’t about the lack of one thing, but that is rather multidimensional. Also, we noticed that our understanding of poverty should be informed by the testimonies of the poor themselves. A corollary to these ideas is that in order to find what poverty really is, we should listen to what the poor say are the dimensions of poverty.

The dimensions of poverty

Thanks to participatory studies such as Voices of The Poor, we can have an idea of what are the dimensions of poverty. These dimensions, like most things, would vary according to the particular context of the people whose testimony is taken. Cultural, natural, and many other factors may account for differences in the mentioned dimensions. Surprisingly though, many common themes emerge among the poor around the world. Still, when trying to find out the dimensions of poverty, we should focus on a particular community to better grasp what poverty is for them.

Poverty according to women in Peruvian shanty towns

According to a study made in shanty towns in Lima, poverty consists of 6 main privations to the women living there:

  • Health
  • Work
  • Education
  • Decent Housing
  • Family Wellbeing
  • Family Closeness

The first three dimensions need not much discussion. The last three might not have been your first guess though. These women came to Lima to search for a chance to survive, escaping great material need and terrorism.  With no money, education, or property, finding a house was one of their priorities. Due to the hardships they’ve faced, most of their homes are plastic or plywood shacks, thereby “decent housing” comes up as an important dimension of poverty.

“Family Wellbeing, ” in simple terms, refers to the members of one’s family being OK, while “Family Closeness” refers to family being around oneself. These two dimensions actually correspond to a trend that has been noted in these communities: to them individual wellbeing is tied to family wellbeing. That is, they consider that their wellbeing also consists on the wellbeing of their family members. Even if a woman is healthy, has a job, education, and a decent house, she can be considered poor if she isn’t close to her family or if they are not OK. What’s more, even when women talk about education, they are usually not referring to education for themselves but for their children. In fact, many women literally say that the whole purpose of their lives is to provide an education to their children and that after achieving this, they can die.

As hard as this sounds, it is true for them. That doesn’t mean that we should agree with them, or that what they say are the dimensions of poverty are in fact all the dimensions of poverty. They might miss some for several reasons. But the point is that we should listen to them in order to help them in the things that are truly important to them. That is why Global Volunteers’ philosophy of service is against assuming we know what is it that they need, but instead asks them first what their needs are and then seeks to help them. Also, volunteers help them just by coming, because when they realize that you come from far to help them, they realize that their own wellbeing matters, that they matter more than they thought.

The Dimensions of Poverty

Woman from Alto Progreso next to her daughter working with volunteers to build stairs for her community.

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