Why does economics need a gender lens? | Daily News

Why does economics need a gender lens?

I'm very struck by the extent of gender sensitivity of the Vice Chancellor and gender awareness and knowledge of the Honourable Minister.

This is a very important preparation that the Department of Economics and Statistics, led by Prof. Dileni Gunewardena and her team and faculty who have been working hard for this workshop.

I want to share our journey for the programme in Gender Analysis in Economics.

In 2009, a colleague of mine and I launched a unique programme in American University (PGAE). After talking to many stakeholders in Washington DC, we decided to have the following: a graduate certificate in gender analysis in economics, a graduate track in the masters degree and a gender field for PhDs.

There are 2 courses - Gender Micro (topics include household economics, labour markets etc.) & Gender Macro. What drove faculty in setting up this programme is the following: the kind of economy we want for ourselves and future generations, requires an analysis of gender economic issues.

Gender power relations

Gender is a social construct. It defines the behaviour that is appropriate for women and men. It determines their differential access to rights and resources and power in society. An important aspect of gender is power relations and its imbalance. However, there is variation in the way gender manifests itself in countries today. In the case of Sri Lanka, Philippines and the US we have made some progress in addressing this imbalance but much is left to be done.

Some manifestations of gender power relations:

Gender based division of labour within the household

Unequal access between men and women in control over property, assets and resources

Unequal participation in political institutions

Restrictions in physical mobility

Codes of conduct that condone violence against women

An important point is that gender relations permeate economic institutions and affect outcomes. Gender affects the household division of labour, Work urden of women, Women’s labor force participation, Wage gaps between women and men, Fertility rates, Economic growth and distribution, Economic development and quality of life and human well-being.

Some examples:

A) Violence against women and its multi-dimensional effects.

A study done by WHO and OECD showed that intimate partner violence is prevalent worldwide, in developed and developing countries. (See map)

Violence against women is not just a women's issue or social issue. It is an economic and political issue too. It has impact on many things. The economic cost not is just on women and families but on the economy and society. (Figure 1)

B) Labour force participation of women, fertility rates and the link with unequal household work burden.

Many regions have experienced a decline in female labour force participation, including China, East Asia etc. South Asia has one of the lowest rates. (Figure 2)

In China, female labour force participation has been declining since 1990. However, a study shows a longer work-day for women compared to men. In India, there has also been declining female labour force participation. A study (using a 1999 time-use survey India), finds a gap in the division of labour of 266 minutes per day.

C) Decline in fertility

Fertility rates are now becoming below replacement rates in many countries. The cost of this decline in fertility affects these countries, not only in economic terms but the reproduction/survival of society. Challenges ahead of us: women are going to face increasing demand for childcare and eldercare. Within our lifetime, the number of older people as a percentage will outgrow the number of children. In the EU, women are providing daily care to adults for 29-30 hours per week.

Paid care work and unpaid care needs to be more visible, we need to acknowledge its important contribution.The care sector contributes to human well-being: reproduces labor and contributes to human capital formation, by taking care of children’s health, nutrition, education and overall upbringing. We need to measure the amount of unpaid care work performed by women and take them into account in policy design and analyses.

Social science discipline

Economics is a long-standing social science discipline. So why does it need a gender lens? Economics is also a social construct - it is humanly constructed. Economics is based on deeply ingrained practices in “way of knowing” and “theorising”. Well-known economists emphasise economics as being positivist, precise, rational etc. This group of individuals (predominantly men) reflect the way they have come to think about economic life. It reflects the social construction of ‘what is the economy'? There is an emphasis on individual autonomy.

Feminist scholarship has had a profound impact on many disciplines. We owe a great deal from other disciplines and feminist scholars. I am privileged to be a part of that journey, with a group of economists and gender scholars. Now we are re-examining what economics is about. It is not just the experience of men in the private sphere, but women in the household, in agriculture, labour markets etc. It recognises gender analysis as important in understanding more comprehensively and more rigorously.

‘Gender Analysis in Economics’ introduces new measures: e.g. gender sensitive data collection methods, gender equality indicators, importance of qualitative methodologies (to understand social contexts, traditions etc. and experiences of women and men as social groups) etc.

I have a very optimistic view of what lies ahead for ‘Gender Analysis in Economics’ at University of Peradeniya. I encourage you to take advantage of this programme.

(The PGIHS will be launching historic postgraduate programme in gender analysis of economics shortly. Directed by the academics from the Department of Economics and Statistics, the University will offer postgraduate courses in Gender Analysis in Economics, a first for Sri Lanka. Stakeholders from a range of sectors participated in the workshop, including academics, public sector officials, private sector representatives and women's rights’ activists and practitioners. The objective of the workshop was to generate awareness, gather feedback and facilitate future networking opportunities.)

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