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Women's Different Experiences

The Economics of Geography
Related section>> Globalization and Food

It matters where you're born. A person's economic status depends a great deal on where on earth their home is. Within cities there are poor and rich neighbourhoods. Within a province there are poorer and wealthier areas. And within the global community, there are vast income discrepancies closely linked to geography. Whether or not you live in a rural or urban area also has implications.

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Challenges facing rural women
In Canada, women in rural areas and small towns face unique economic challenges. There are often fewer jobs available to them and the jobs that are available are often lower-paying and more traditional jobs such as sales and service, housecleaning, and teaching. Access to child care is a big problem for many women in rural areas creating another barrier to participation in the paid workforce. Educational opportunities that may increase women's chances are more difficult to access for people living in rural areas. Alice (see Alice's Story) left her community in order to get training despite the fact that there was no adequate child care for her children.

At the same time the cost of living in rural areas may be higher. In Manitoba, food costs in small towns, especially Aboriginal communities, are often significantly higher than in urban areas. Milk sells for nearly $12/4L in some northern communities. There may be other costs associated with living in a rural area: less access to rental housing therefore higher rents, having to own a car, gas costs, and regular trips to larger urban areas for supplies or to visit family and friends.

Another resource that women in rural areas lack is resource centres. Women's resource centres in rural Canada are few and far between; those that do exist are chronically under-funded. This gap is especially problematic for women who are leaving abusive relationships who may have to displace themselves from their communities and support networks (both financial and emotional) in order to find safety.

Farmers - male and female alike - are one of the groups hardest hit by geographically-based economic inequalities. As a child playing on her grandparent's farm, Charlene (see Charlene's story) dreamed of the 'limitless' possibilities of a life in the country. But as she grew up Charlene realized that creating a rural life for herself was a lot harder than she'd imagined. Seeing so many of her peers leave for the city led Charlene to wonder, "Who will remain to farm the land?" Charlene now lives and farms on an organic farm near Clearwater, Manitoba and is a co-founder of the Organic Farm Mentorship Program which facilitates the transfer of knowledge from successful farmers to young people who'd like to be farmers. In order to make ends meet, however, Charlene must still work off the farm in the off-season.

Celia, a friend and fellow-farmer must do the same. Celia (see Celia's story) and her husband have farmed for nineteen years. Of the economics of those years Celia says, "For nine of those years we lost substantial amounts of money, for six of those years we made very little money and for four of those years we made a decent amount of money… Thirteen of those years we have worked off the farm during the winters to make ends meet."

Though farmers produce what every human being needs to survive, they are among the world's most poorly paid workers. As agricultural production has become more industrialized it has been taken over by corporations intent on earning money, rather than caring for land or providing real income. The huge costs associated with corporate farming - machinery, chemicals and pesticides, are too much for many small family farms to handle. As Celia says, "We have to take what the market offers us, and it rarely covers the cost of production." Thousands of Canadian farmers face bankruptcy each year, forced off land for which their families have cared for generations.

HighwayWealth and land
Originally wealth was tied to the productivity of land. Aboriginal peoples lived well off the riches of their land. Farmers too were able to feed themselves directly with what the land produced; hard-work and good weather was usually enough to bring abundance. But over the last decades there has been a growing discord between wealth and land. In our province of Manitoba it is clear that financial wealth is centred around urban areas and in the southern part of the province despite the fact that many of the resources that bring this monetary wealth originate in the northern part of our province. In contrast, many Aboriginal communities in the north have been forced into poverty through large-scale economic developments such as forestry, hydro-electricity and mining which have destroyed local economies of hunting, fishing, and trapping. (See Aboriginal Women and the Economy.) Aboriginal wealth is transferred to the heads of mining and hydro industries (see Emma Jane's story). Farmers too see the profits of their work handed to multi-national pesticide companies as well as to the urban consumer who buys food for less than it costs to produce it.

Though our economy is dependant on the earth and its riches, people who live closest to the earth often have the least access to it and see few if any of the riches it brings. The transition from a resource-based economy to a money-based economy has facilitated a discord between those who care for the land and those who make money off it. An economy based on money has plunged those with the least amount of money into deeper and deeper poverty.

Global wealth distribution
On a global scale, differences in wealth are most stark when comparing so-called first and third (or fourth) worlds. While there are rich people and poor people all over the world, a disproportionate number of the world's poor live in the global South: Africa, Asia, and South America, while an equally disproportionate share of the world's rich live in the global North: North America and Europe. And the inequalities are massive. As one reporter sums up, "The richest 50 million people, huddled in Europe and North America, have the same income as 2.7 billion poor people. The slice of the cake taken by 1% is the same size as that handed to the poorest 57%,"1 The United Nations Development Program reports that half of the world's poor live in sub-Saharan Africa. The 15 poorest countries in the world are all in sub-Saharan Africa. To get an idea of just how unequally wealth is divided, Canada's GDP per person (in 2009 ranked 10th in the world) is almost 1.5 times higher than the combined GDP of all of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many of the countries in the global South have more than their share of the world's wealth in terms of natural resources. Global wealth inequalities are also dependant on people being displaced from their land. Corporate farming, mining, hydro-electric development, and other economic 'developments' are common all over the world; many of these projects are financed by the world's wealthiest countries, including Canada, and many have been known to lead to human rights violations and violence (see Economics of War). Racism and the legacy of slavery - a massive displacement of people from their land while using them to benefit the development of others' land - are other factors that have played their part in global income disparities (see Economics of Race) that have led to massive income disparities. Free trade, and the globalization of the economy, have been called modern day manifestations of slavery by many (see Globalization and Food).

Sunflowers in autumnOpportunities and change
Despite the struggles of rural life, it is a life many would not want to give up. Many women in rural areas on all continents grow at least some of their own food, reducing their costs and providing them with nutritious food. Many people find there's a lot less to spend your money on in rural areas. At the same time, more intimate connections with neighbours encourage people to take care of each other or offer opportunities like being able to start one's own business (see Darlene's story), something they may not be able to do had they lived in the city. For many people, life on the land offers benefits that can never be economically quantified. All over the world people living in rural areas are fighting back and reclaiming the land for which they care through projects like community-shared agriculture or Charlene's farm mentorship program, or giving voice to their concerns in public demonstrations against corporations intent on destroying family farms. In Barriere Lake Quebec, First Nation people are demanding that the Canadian government stop trying to dismantle their traditional governance system and honour the tri-lateral resource sharing agreement they signed. The honouring of this agreement would allow the community to continue to live on their land in a way that is respectful and fruitful.2 People and communities are reclaiming their connections to land and ensuring that there is a natural world to pass on to our children.

If the world were a village
Many people have spent time imagining how the world would look if the entire global population were represented in one village.

The world is a village of 100 people…

61 are from Asia.
13 are from Africa.
12 are from Europe.
8 are from South America, Central America (including Mexico), and the Caribbean.
5 are from Canada and the United States.
1 is from Oceania (an area that includes Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the south, west and central Pacific).

75 have access to a source of safe water.
60 have access to sanitation.
76 have electricity.
68 breathe clean air.

Of the 38 school-aged villagers, only 31 attend school.

If all the money in the village were divided equally, each person would have about $6200 per year. But in the global village money isn't divided equally.
The richest 20 people each have more than $9000 a year.
The poorest 20 each have less than $1 a day.

The average cost of food, shelter and other necessities in the village would be $4000-$5000 per year. Many people don't have enough to meet those basic needs.3

The world is a village. We are all in this together. And it is up to all of us, especially those who currently consume more than their fair share of resources, to do what we can to ensure that one day all peoples benefit equally from the tremendous resource we call earth. For some ideas on what you can do to promote economic equality visit Alternatives.

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