Feminist Economics and the Analysis of the Global Economy: The Challenge That Awaits Us

By Floro, Maria Sagrario; Willoughby, John | The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Feminist Economics and the Analysis of the Global Economy: The Challenge That Awaits Us


Floro, Maria Sagrario, Willoughby, John, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs


INTRODUCTION

Over the past half-century, feminist economists have transformed our understanding of how the world economy functions. They have critiqued the gender-blindness of traditional economic models and challenged analytic descriptions of development and globalization that ignore much of women's economic activity. Feminist economists have developed analytical frameworks for examining gender relations that permeate political, social, and economic institutions including markets, governments, households, and firms. They have produced new methodologies that incorporate women's experiences in economic models, statistics, and the evaluation of economic phenomena. Their research has pushed the boundaries of knowledge by challenging conventional paradigms and concepts, ideas and categories that were engrained and therefore rarely scrutinized.1

The result has been the emergence of a new consensus. Welldocumented studies have shown that the erosion of systems of patriarchy not only empowers women economically, but also has demonstrably positive impacts on alleviating poverty and promoting human development. These changes in our understanding of the development process have produced a new politics as well as new forms of economic development policy. Key international institutions, donor agencies, and governments have adopted gender-sensitive policies in their development programs as part of 'gender mainstreaming,' or the process of institutionalizing gender-sensitive analysis and policy in governments and organizations.2 Advocates have also used feminist knowledge of development to strengthen women's groups raising gender issues in broader social and political movements. Knowledge of feminism allows for greater clarity of the vision of social change and has served as a guide for consciousness-raising, thus enabling feminist research to be transformative at the grassroots level. This dynamic interaction between feminist thinking and feminist activism has revealed tensions regarding the intersections of knowledge, power, and development outcomes.3 It has led to debates among feminist economists in terms of what needs to be done and how best to accomplish gender equality. These tensions and debates are necessary and vital in pushing the boundaries of knowledge and in deepening our understanding of development.

Despite this headway, several important challenges remain. The progress we can document has been halting and uneven. Moreover, in certain key areas of economic policy-making, gender-sensitive economic policy is absent, and approaches used in gender mainstreaming to assess the differential effects of a policy on women and men can sometimes legiti- mize women's subordinate roles. Rather than treating the promotion of human rights and women's well-being as ends in themselves, their labor and productivity potential are viewed mainly as means to further increase economic growth. The important focus on long-run transformation of gender relations toward equality in the context of regional, national, and global economic processes is, more often than not, neglected, particularly when countries face economic crises. The very real setbacks women experience as a result of the gender-blind management of the economy during booms and downturns have long-term consequences. In this time of increasing economic disruptions, it will be important to systematically integrate the promotion of gender equality in the implementation of appropriate economic stabilization policies.

First, we explore the link between dismantling systems of male dominance and our understanding of the development process, with a particular focus on what is required to achieve the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).4 We then turn to interventions from key international organizations in order to illustrate the impact that feminist economics has had on development policymaking. We then argue that, despite some advancements, several missing elements in the development of economic policy still allow unequal gender relations to persist or create new forms of gender inequalities. …

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