The World Bank has said that gender equality is good economics. Although that may be a compelling argument for a minister of finance, it implies that gender equality is important as an economic instrument. Somehow that argument does not sit well with my feminist priorities to put women’s welfare first.
The economic-utility argument is not completely wrong; it is misleading. My feminist argument would rather say that gender equality is good governance because it assures equality in economic decision-making. When viewed through a human rights lens, good economic policies uphold the principles of shared benefit, inclusiveness, and sustainability—all very much a part of a gender equality approach.
The biggest challenge for many of us is to argue for a feminist perspective on macroeconomic policies. However, let’s start with issues that lie close to home like gender-based violence. Violence against women and girls is an extreme form of coercion, a barrier to full economic decision-making. If the goal of development is to broaden and enhance personal freedoms, ending violence against women and girls is clearly a prerequisite for economic empowerment, rather than just achieving economic growth.
We also need to look with skepticism at fiscal consolidation and reducing government debt, which often results in cuts in social services, such as health care, daycare centers, and social protection measures. These cuts affect women the most because women are the ones most negatively affected by disasters, financial crises, and health crises. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of affordable childcare forced many women to withdraw from the work force.
Finally, macroeconomic policies related to infrastructure and trade must be planned using a gender lens. For example, improved infrastructure plans, road construction, and public transportation improvements can improve women’s efficiencies, particularly in developing country where they depend on animals for firewood. Women must jump into mainstream economic discussions and demand a say in financing for development.