GenderMarch 08, 2019

Feminist solutions to man-made economic inequality

Here are some of the key ways public spending and taxation could reduce gender inequality.
2019-05-21 00:00:00 India Development Review Feminist solutions to man-made economic inequality
3 Min read Share

In the words of feminist activist, Paula Varela: ‘Women… have the majority of the precarious jobs, and we perform the overwhelming majority of reproductive work at home. This is why a basic right such as the freedom to decide about one’s own body, to decide on motherhood, is a right for which the entire working class has to fight. Similarly, that’s why… the precariousness of work, the lack of funds for health and education, the extension of the working day… all these attacks on the working class have to be demands of the feminist movement.’

Our economic rules have been written by rich and powerful men to serve their own interests. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the number of billionaires in the world has doubled, and their fortunes currently grow by $2.5 billion a day. Meanwhile the wealth of the poorest half of humanity, 3.8 billion people, fell by 11%.

Globally, women earn 23% less than men and have a 50% lower share of wealth.

Most of the world’s richest people are men. As highlighted in Public Good or Private Wealth, they control over 86% of all companies in the world, hold more resources than women and are more likely to be at the top of the income ladder. Globally, women earn 23% less than men and have a 50% lower share of wealth.

A gender lens for public spending and taxation

Since women are more likely to live in poverty than men, it is sometimes assumed that to address gender injustice it is enough to implement policies designed to reduce poverty, because women will benefit more.

Related article: Financial inclusion – the key to closing India’s gender gap

However, because women and girls living in poverty face discrimination, heavy unpaid care work responsibilities, violence or restrictions on their rights and freedoms, they won’t always see the benefits. The gendered nature of economic inequality reinforces inequality in all areas of women’s lives. This denies them the power to challenge systems of discrimination.

Universal public services, especially in areas such as health, education and water—as well as social protections like pensions and child support grants—have a profound impact on gender equality.  For example, when school is made free, girls benefit most as they are the last to attend when families have to pay. But that is not enough. Public services also need to be designed specifically with gender—and other—inequalities in mind, and should also seek to challenge harmful social norms.

Unpaid care and inequality

Our economies are built on millions of hours of unpaid labour carried out every day. Time spent caring for children, the elderly and the sick; cooking and cleaning; and collecting water and firewood, is overwhelmingly done by women and girls. If all this unpaid care work was carried out by a single company, it would have an annual turnover of $10 trillion, 43 times that of Apple.

If all unpaid care work was carried out by a single company, it would have an annual turnover of $10 trillion, 43 times that of Apple.

The heavy nature of this work leaves women time-poor, and less able to take up educational, political and economic opportunities. And women living in poverty bear the most unpaid care work of all.  Governments should prioritise meeting the care needs of their populations by providing universal public services and social protection.

Freeing up women’s time would go a long way towards tackling economic and gender inequality. Access to free public childcare in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil increased low-income mothers’ employment rates by 27%. In parts of Zimbabwe, providing access to an improved water source could reduce women’s average unpaid care workload by four hours a day—the equivalent of two months a year.

Powerful solutions for tackling economic inequality and poverty

Rather than being a drain on government budgets, these investments would deliver economic returns. Research in six middle-income countries shows that investing 2% of GDP in strengthening health and care services could generate between 1–3% growth in overall employment. This is 13% more jobs than if the same sum was invested in the construction industry.

Related article: Time poverty – The key to addressing gender disparity

As mentioned previously, economic inequality also translates into inequality in voice. To make public services responsive to the needs of women living in poverty, governments must provide genuine opportunities for them to have a say in key budget, design and management decisions.

Spiralling economic inequality is a threat to the fight against poverty. Economic policies fail to fully recognise women’s economic contributions, or take their needs and priorities into account. Only solutions that address gender inequality will be effective ones.

This was originally published on Oxfam’s Policy & Practice blog. You can read it here.

We want IDR to be as much yours as it is ours. Tell us what you want to read. writetous@idronline.org

Comments

We hope the conversations that take place on idronline.org will be energetic, constructive, and thought-provoking. To ensure the quality of the discussion, our moderating team will review all comments and may edit them for clarity, length, and relevance. Comments that are overly promotional, mean-spirited, or off-topic may be deleted per the moderators' judgment. All posts become the property of India Development Review.
Get smart.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter, IDR Edit.
Follow us
Get smart. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter, IDR Edit.

IDR is India’s first independent media platform for the development community.

We publish cutting edge ideas, lessons and insights, written by and for the people working on some of India’s toughest problems. Our job is to make things simple and relevant, so you can do more of what you do, better.

IDR is produced in partnership with Ashoka University’s Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy.

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Contact
© 2019 India Development Review    
India Development Review is published by the Forum for Knowledge and Social Impact, a not-for-profit company registered under Section 8 of the Company Act, 2013.
CIN: U93090MH2017NPL296634