ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Elusiveness of Gender Equality/Gender Justice

Transformative affirmation of gender equality ipso facto rules out “economic man” as a privileged entity.

Padmini Swaminathan writes:

The Global Gender Gap Index 2022 places India almost at the bottom of the indicators that are crucial for empowering its population, particularly women. These include health, economic participation and opportunity, and educational attainment. While the world as a whole would need 132 years to reach gender parity, South Asia, the poorest performer, is expected to take almost 197 years to attain parity at the current levels. India ranks poorer than its immediate South Asian neighbours—Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Bhutan.

India is a signatory to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Deve­lopment (adopted by the United Nations’ member states on
15 September 2015). The agenda provides for advancing sustainable development in three dimensions: economic, social, and environmental. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) not only include a dedicated “gender goal” (Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all girls and women), but many gender issues are clearly articulated in the common goals as well. In particular, the inclusion of the concept of “leave no-one behind” is considered a major breakthrough. It provides an opportunity to explore not just who is being left behind or out, but more significantly, how and why some individuals, groups, or regions get left behind and what proactive steps need to be taken to be thoroughly inclusive.

Over several decades, the enormous literature produced by feminists documents in considerable detail the continuing nature of exclusion characterising Indian women and girl children in particular. This literature covers a vast field and includes interrogation of disciplines, policies, institutions, and methodologies of data collection by the national data agencies, apart from analysing the judicial pronouncements and judgments. Even a cursory reading of this literature will immediately make it clear as to why addressing the theme of gender equality to move towards gender justice cannot be achieved easily since it mandatorily requires that those classes of people that benefit from such inequality give up their privileges, without which the feminist agenda of social transformation cannot be achieved. Given the constraints of space, we illustrate our argument through an interrogation of the discipline of economics that forms the basis of much of the economic policies of the country, the benefits of which have disproportionately eluded the marginalised, women included.

Since Adam Smith’s time, insularity from issues of care, dependency, and self-sacrifice has characterised the discipline of economics with the unfortunate result that adding women to the economic model was premised on women being like men.

Conceptual and operational difficulties in the valuation and measurement of “work” that goes into homemaking and care have been touted as reasons for not including housework in the gross domestic product (GDP) estimates. Instead of making efforts to overcome these problems, the tendency among most eco­nomists has been to dismiss housework as inconsequential to the GDP calculations. Worse, mainstream economists find nothing offensive in joking about how GDP increases when a man employs a housekeeper and how the same GDP decreases when the man marries his housekeeper. As critics have pointed out, in addition to the joke saying a lot about the perception of gender roles among economists, it also shows how the same kind of work can be counted or not counted as part of the GDP.

The rigid conceptualisation of “economic man” has meant that woman has entered the job market without the man having entered the home to the same extent such that the constant allusion to “work–life” balance has not only resulted in maintaining the divide between the private and the public spheres but has also worked to the detriment of the woman, such that work–life conflicts become women’s issues and responsibility. Solutions to such conflicts are not sought in fundamentally changing our ideas about the boundaries between work and family life.

In critiquing the discipline of economics, through the trope of the economic man as handed down to us by Smith and made more sophisticated by the later economists through mathematical models, feminist economists have demonstrated how theories of and policies based on economics have been able to maintain the façade that economic outcomes are gender-neutral. The poverty of economics lies in its inability to factor in the different structural positions that men and women occupy in any economy, which, in turn, lead to differential outcomes for men and women even if the policies are the same.

Over time and largely because of women’s movements all across the globe, the project of economic development was forced to contend with many of the issues raised by women. Women’s questioning of the gendered nature of development was instrumental in giving rise to “gender and development” as an academic discipline, as policy, and as activism (locally and globally).

Agenda 2030 includes within it the rhetoric of accountability, stakeholder participation, social dialogue, and global governance. In a critical examination of this rhetoric, feminists have illustrated how targets set for different goals do not provide
details of analogous accountability mechanisms. Taking the goal of “empowering all women and girls,” these same critics have pointed out how donors and investors favour an apolitical use of the term in which power relations may actually remain wholly or virtually untouched. In other words, it becomes empowerment without power.

As of now, only half of the feminist revolution has happened; we have added women and stirred. We have a long way to traverse to build an economy and society that is human and not a reflection of Smith’s economic man.

 

 

 

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Updated On : 6th Aug, 2022
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