Feminist economics demands a new development paradigm

Women working in a rice field in
Palung. (UN Photo/John Isaac)

Gender equity is a key element of any genuine program towards sustainable development. Analysis included on the Social Watch Report 2012 and the national contributions to the study prove, once again, the stagnation of the fight against these disparities, with disastrous consequences on the struggles against poverty, climate change and food security.

“Men and women play distinct roles in areas such as food production, fuel consumption, resource management, disaster response, and in the care economy. As a result they are affected in unique ways by climate change and are positioned to make unique contributions to adaptation and mitigation efforts,” wrote Canadian expert Kate McInturff, of the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), in the chapter of the report entitled “Green and equal: Financing for sustainable and equitable development”.

“Women make up the majority of small-scale food producers. They are far more likely than men to be responsible for cultivation, food preparation and managing the distribution of food to their families and communities,” added McInturff. 

The expert relates the case of the agricultural female workers in Montalban, Philippines. “Women have responded to the impact of changing weather patterns and increased fertilizer costs by changing their methods of cultivation and the variety of rice that they grow—resulting in lower GHG emissions, less fertilizer use, and crops that are better adapted,” she explained.

“As this example demonstrates, climate change funds that overlook the role women play in food production miss an opportunity to make a significant impact on both food security and adaptation and mitigation efforts,” McInturff added.

The report also mentions a previous Social Watch’s study entitled “Beijing and Beyond: Putting gender economics at the forefront”. That paper remarks that, according to investigations on feminist economics, “over 50% of all work hours are unpaid and therefore are not recorded in GDP. If this invisible work were considered we would see that nearly two thirds of wealth is created by women.”

“Women around the world work longer hours, participate less in formal labour markets, receive lower incomes and have fewer social protection benefits than do men. Feminist economics demands a new development paradigm that is not based exclusively on economic growth,” adds the study. “In the classic model, activities that are essential for the existence of the family and community are ignored as they take place outside markets. These include maintaining a household, child rearing, caring for the elderly and a large part of food production and crop maintenance. Since these activities are carried out informally, without contract or exchange of money, they are considered ‘noneconomic activities,’ not only in the economics textbooks but also the in the international System of National Accounts.”

MacInturf enriches that analysis noting that “although women make up the majority of small-scale farmers, and are best positioned to respond to food insecurity, they are far less likely to hold formal title to the land they cultivate,” because “they are less likely to have property rights, including rights of inheritance.” To make things worst, she adds, “in times of food scarcity women often allocate more food to male family members than female family members.”

“A gender-sensitive evaluation of climate change funds must consider not only how the funds are distributed, but the extent to which funding is allocated to address the structural impediments to women’s full participation in adaptation and mitigation efforts,” McInturff concludes. “Moreover, the administration and design of the funds must be conducted in a gender equitable manner, including by involving women and women’s rights organizations in decision-making at every level.”

“Lower burdens of unpaid work not only increase women’s capacity to engage in paid work and, thus, potentially increase their economic independence, a lower burden of unpaid work may also increase educational opportunities for women and girls. Increased education levels for women, in turn, have demonstrated positive impacts on their health and the health of their families. None of these impacts, however, can be measured without measuring the nature and effect of unpaid work on women and their communities,” wrote the expert.

McInturff noted that “gender and climate budgeting assumes that spending is an opportunity for change for the better – for a macroeconomics that is sustainable and equitable, that measure progress in terms of well-being and not GDP, that captures change in quality of life, not just the monetized economy.” But “in practice, gender and climate budgeting projects often invoke both the ideas of fairness or justice and traditional economic arguments regarding cost-effectiveness and growth. In times of global economic crisis it is difficult to make arguments that do not attend to the cost and productivity. […] In the face of the argument that justice and equality are too expensive, proponents of the values that underwrite climate and gender budgeting projects must face the contradiction within their own tactics—they must consider whether or not they are willing make claims for justice and equality even when those end goals are antagonistic to market growth and productivity.”

The previous Social Watch paper had pointed to the need of “systems of social protection that are universal and holistic.” “Sustainable, inclusive and equitable development requires a change in economic theory and this must be reflected in practice. It is not a question of aiming for growth and formulating some policies for women, but of designing and implementing a new development paradigm with equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone without any kind of discrimination whatsoever.”

A hard struggle in rich and poor nations

The Canadian and Afghan chapters of the Social Watch Report 2012 are good examples of the difficulties to achieve gender equity in both rich and poor countries.

Although Afghan government has stated its commitment to promote gender equality and to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education by 2020, only 6% of Afghan women aged 25 or older have ever received any formal education and just 12% of women aged 15 or older are literate, according to an OXFAM report published in 2011.

Around 40% of the interviewed by OXFAM named poverty as the biggest obstacle to girls’ access to education, and almost the same percentage identified early and forced marriages as another barrier.

The study also mentions other challenges such as the lack of teachers, especially female ones, the need of proper infrastructure for the schools, particularly deficient in rural areas, and the lack of security, female seclusion, religious biases, household chores and threats from the insurgents. Acid and gas attacks on girl students in 2010 caused a number of dropouts. However new hope for an increase in girls’ enrolment emerged after the Taliban announced that they would not burn schools or create obstacles to girls’ education.

On the other hand, Fafia’s national report on Canada identifies women as “the shock absorbers in situations of economic crisis, as they take on greater burdens of unpaid work and their status in the formal sector become more precarious”.

“Women in Canada have been among the first to return to a post-recession labour force, but this early re-entry does not translate into increased well-being or increased economic stability,” since they are “more likely to be engaged in part-time and unpaid work. Moreover, they continue to suffer from one of the largest gender wage gaps amongst OECD countries,” adds the report.

“Two-thirds of all mothers with children under the age of six do paid work”, but “the Government cancelled a national childcare plan that would provide increased access for all working parents” to childcare, and women who have not a paid work, single mothers and Aboriginal women receive welfare incomes “so low that the Chair of the National Council of Welfare recently called them ‘shameful and morally unsustainable in a rich country’.”

Canadian women, especially Aboriginal, also suffer gender-based violence. More than 500 Aboriginal women in Canada have gone missing or been murdered over the last 40 years.

Social Watch Report 2012: http://bit.ly/skL4l4