International Women’s Day: Let’s Focus On Feminist (Gendered) Economics

Women at market (small) 70x71.jpg Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day, when women are celebrated in many parts of the world. But after more than a century of campaigning, women and men remain unequal in wealth and power. It’s time for an overtly feminist, gendered approach to economics, examining the differential impacts and advantages of economic activity on women and men.

The campaign for ‘women’s rights’ has been going for a very long time now.
One of the original texts about women’s rights, The Subjection of Women, was written in1869 by the Scottish radical philosopher John Stuart Mill. That’s almost a century and a half ago. And so very much more has been written, said and done about this issue since then.
The question is, therefore: despite worthy events such as International Women’s Day, why is there still such a long way to go?
Convenient inertia
‘Convenient’ is probably too kind a word to describe the collective failure to see the negative experience of most women in regard to economics, employment, public life and business. Nonetheless,
the word convenience points us in the right direction if we want to explain the stifling inertia many women experience in their quest simply for equality.
There are many fair-minded and decent men, but there are also large numbers who would rather see inequality and exploitation anywhere except on their own doorstep. And since men still have more power and influence than women, it’s often their perspectives which have the most weight. ‘Women’s equality’ may not be a taboo subject, but it is certainly a sidelined one.
There’s always something more urgent and important to address…
Economic analysis
So let’s start to approach this, seriously, another way. Let’s look routinely and quite expressly at how women and men fare in the
economy and the corridors of power.
In other words, let’s have an Economics which uses gender as an analytical tool in the same way that other Social Science analysis does. Only once the unspoken taboo had been broken did social scientists begin to perceive the realities of gender impact, direct and indirect, on society itself.
Moves in the right direction
Big steps are being made, with the introduction of equality standards for all English local authorities.
As part of these standards, Gender Impact Assessments, required from April 2007, are to be the vehicle through which the Women and Equality Unit and the Department for Trade and Industry is bringing into sharp focus the issue of gender in relation to the Government’s Public Service Reform.

Start them young
Government policy, excellent in intention though it may be, is one thing. Taking matters seriously in wider society, even if there are sanctions for not doing so, is sometimes another.
The next steps are to ensure that Business / Enterprise Studies and Economics embed gender differentials into their curriculum from the very start. This should be as much a part of the Economics (and other) GCSE curricula as it already is the Social Science one. Early on is the best place to start.
And at the other end of the scale corporates at every level should be required to give much more ‘gendered’ (and other diversity-linked) information in their annual reports. Business moves where its pocket takes it, and the bottom line here is exactly that, the visible bottom line. At a time of claimed skills
shortages, becoming gender conscious is good for business, as well as good for people.
Progress?
There are small initiatives such as the idea of the Conference Diversity Index, and also some much larger pointers to the future which thread through this train of thought.
In 2006 the London Business School launched the Lehman Brothers Business Centre for Women, with the intention of providing solutions for the challenges that businesses face in attracting and retaining talented women.
Signs of success
But alongside the urgent necessity to get more women to the very ‘top’ we need to ensure that most of them don’t stay much nearer the bottom.

The costs of gender inequality impinge on us all. There are a few thinkers and scholars who have established a baseline here, but only when gender is a clearly articulated part of mainstream public consciousness, politics and business will we really be getting somewhere.

A shorter version of this article was published as a letter in The Guardian on 8 March 2007.

Posted on March 8, 2007, in Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Politics, Policies And Process, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on International Women’s Day: Let’s Focus On Feminist (Gendered) Economics.

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