Women's Empowerment under
CATHY A. RAKOWSKI*
Although neoliberal economics purports to be [gender neutral] and focused on [individuals] and [markets,] ample evidence exists that it is gender biased both in its outcomes and in its implicit assumptions about gender roles. However, in spite of the gender bias in reforms and — conversely — the attention given to gender issues in some compensatory social policies, the specific nature of their impacts are variable. Their impacts may be negative under some conditions and positive under others. Even the negative impacts of reforms can have a positive side; women may be empowered personally, socially and politically even as (or because) their workload and poverty increases. Moreover, some researchers argue that under neoliberal economic restructuring women's roles as shock absorbers lead to a breakdown in patriarchal norms, and thereby increase the opportunities for women to empower themselves. This article reviews the arguments and evidence for these different perspectives.
Most proponents of the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s claim that they are [gender neutral.] But critics and women's advocates argue that there is a [gender bias] to reforms and the neoliberal economics behind them. Even social policies and compensatory programs designed to ameliorate the social costs of reforms have come under attack for gender bias — though many target women. Empirical research on gender bias has produced some contradictory conclusions regarding the relationship between women's changing status and the implementation of neoliberal policies or compensatory programs. A review of this literature suggests caution is warranted. Whether or not policies and programs are biased — for or against women — their impacts on women may be negative under some conditions and positive under others. Furthermore, the very changes
*Women's Studies and Rural Sociology, Ohio State University, 2120 Fyffe Rd., Columbus, Ohio