This paper describes initial findings of a study on the perception of poverty of villagers in sixteen villages in eight agro-ecological zones in Bangladesh, carried out as part of the on-going Livelihoods of the Extreme por research project being undertaken by PROSHIKA. Well-being rankings were carried out in all villages, which produced the expected categorization based on land size, food security, ownership of assets and education. Then the researchers discussed with different villagers, the non-poor and poorest, how they perceived their poverty in their village. While the better off villagers described widows, the disabled, chronically sick and those with many children as 'the poorest'. The poor said that 'the poorest' were those who could not access influential people or village institutions or were living alone without support. Gender as well as age, played a large part in defining the poorest in their view because the cultural context prevented women from undertaking activities that might improve their livelihoods. While those who were less poor said the poorest were 'idle' this was never the view of the poorest who often expressed the view that it was God's wish that they were poor. While participatory tools like wealth ranking may help in assessing poverty, this study shows the value of listening to the voices of the poorest (and the non-poor) in order to understand the barriers they perceive that keep them in poverty.
Describing their poverty: what the poorest say about being poor in rural Bangladesh, presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 27 pp.