The Strategic Silence: Gender & Economic Policy // Review

Article excerpt

The Strategic Silence: Gender and Economic Policy Isabella Bakker, ed. London: Zed Books, 1994; 170 pp.

Reviewed by Katarzyna Rukszto Graduate Programme in Sociology York University North York, Ontario

The Strategic Silence: Gender and Economic Policy is the culmination of a seminar organized by the North - South Institute in June 1992 that examined economic restructuring in light of its impact on women. As outlined in the introduction by Isabella Bakker, the authors want to show how seemingly gender - neutral macro - economic policies have profoundly differential effects on women and men. In Bakker's words, "[m]ost treatments of structural change harbour a 'conceptual silence': the failure to acknowledge explicitly or implicitly that global restructuring is occurring on a gendered terrain" (p.1).

The intent of the volume is to show how economic restructuring impacts on the gendered division of labour both in the household and in the labour force. This is done through theoretical investigations of male bias, or lack of gender awareness, in specific economic concepts (Bakker; Elson; Grown; Williams), analyses of the relationship between patriarchal discourses and the process of restructuring (Brodie; Afshar), and examination of the impact of macro - economic policies through specific case studies (MacDonald; Cohen; Evers; Cagatay; Barron; Afshar). The collection closes with a provocative essay by Swapna Mukhopadhyay, who, unlike the other contributors to the book, argues against the notion that macro - economic concepts are imbued with male bias and instead proposes a different focus of enquiry into the relationship between gender relations and restructuring.

The book's obvious strength is its focus on the gendered nature of the process of restructuring, in the sense that through the process of "engendering," the empty abstract nature of macro - policies is made "social." However, the categories "gender" and "woman" are rarely unpacked for the reader to see how the processes of global restructuring produce locally specific notions of gender and organize women's labour on the basis of race and class divisions and citizenship status. The relationship between gender and other relations of domination and social and economic organization are mentioned but not explicated, so that in the introduction it is asserted that the definition of gender relations as social construction "recognizes that the interplay of race, class and sexuality underpins the form and structure of actual gender relations" (p.3) without any explication of this interplay in the remainder of the chapter.

The occlusion of race and class from the analysis of gender in relationship to global restructuring weakens the often interesting and illuminating arguments on the relationship between the state, patriarchal discourses and restructuring. Brodie's article, "Shifting the Boundaries: Gender and the Politics of Restructuring," is a compelling argument that the impact and efforts of restructuring extend "beyond the economic" (p.46). She shows how "the current round of restructuring entails a fundamental redrawing of the familiar boundaries between the international and national, the state and the economy, and the so - called 'public' and 'private"' (p.46). While at one point she argues that in Western countries, the greatest impact of structural adjustment has been borne by immigrant, working class, and less educated women, her analysis is carried out in the general term of "women's experience" of structural adjustment. As such, it is "women" who have moved into part - time and temporary work, service sector, and home - work. There is no discussion of how the female labour force of these sectors and of managerial and administrative sectors is organized on the basis of race, class and citizenship. Such a lack of integration of race, class, citizenship and gender is especially troubling since the ultimate project for Brodie is the retheorization of the object of feminist analysis. …