Feminist Economics

The economy is not gender neutral, but actually relies on gender imbalances to function and grow.

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From the collection: Gender Economics

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From the collection Gender Economics

In this five-part lecture series, the renowned scholar guides us through the field of feminist economics and shows how our understanding of the economy, theory and policy changes with the adoption of a gender perspective.


Part 1

It’s Not Just Biology

In this first lecture in the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s “Feminist Economics” series, Professor Jayati Ghosh introduces the importance of a gender perspective in economics. It begins with the recognition of "care work", that is the unpaid labor time undertaken primarily by women in the care of children and other members of the family. This produces a gender division of labor and construction of society, which gives men priority in the formal economic sphere, and relegates women to an auxiliary or peripheral role. As a result, women are a unique type of economic actor, as care work is often not accounted for in economic theory, measures or policy. Yet the rest of the economy could not operate without it. Our understanding of the economy, prosperity and poverty remains incomplete.

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PART 2

Women in (Recognized) Work

In this second lecture in the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s “Feminist Economics” series, Professor Jayati Ghosh explores the challenge of defining 'work', and the shortcomings and consequences of attempts to define it too narrowly.. Female labor often lies disproprortionately on the fluctuating frontiers of the formal economy. Women serve as reserve armies of labor for capitalist accumulation and frontline workers during industrialization. But as soon as these frontiers expand or change, women are expelled or relegated to the shadows of the informal economy and piece-rate labor. There is a frequent failure to recognize the importance of the kind of work many women engage in, which both keeps an economy running and enables its expansion and growth. By embracing narrow or outdated definitions of work, economists and government agencies overlook these vital frontier areas, and leave women workers, already the most vulnerable, without minimal protections.

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Part 3

Women in the Workforce

In this third lecture in the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s “Feminist Economics” series, Professor Jayati Ghosh explores women in the formal workforce. Legal, social and cultural constraints mean that female workers often end up clustered in certain occupations. The easy exploitation of women turns these into low wage jobs as a result. The double burden of household responsibilities hampers women from working extra hours, reducing their earning potential and upward mobility. Women workers are seen as generally available and expendable, and private employers as well as government set their expectations around that. Women are often not treated as full formal workers, have less job security, are paid less to begin with, and face a sharp earnings penalty for motherhood. Women also have less public infrastructure and lower safety on job sites and commutes. Women in self-employment fare just as poorly, facing legal barriers to inheritance of assets and relative lack of access to productive credit. Recent schemes such a microfinance have been unable to overcome these obstacles. Despite social and cultural advances in recent years, women workers continue to be serve as a reserve army of labor in the modern capitalist economy. This is reinforced by globalization and relocation of production, which maintains women as insecure, low-paid subordinate workers. Capitalism is not blind to gender needs, but rather exploits it and uses it to its own advantage.

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Part 4

Gender Awareness & Public Policy

In this fourth lecture in the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s “Feminist Economics” series, Professor Jayati Ghosh explores the impact of economic policy on women, and the importance of adopting a gender-perspective in formulating policy. This goes beyond the inclusion of women in the decision-making process, to recognizing the differential impact a policy may have on women. Prof. Ghosh explains how migration remittances, fiscal policy (government expenditure and taxation), monetary policy, international structural adjustment programs and environmental policy affect women differently. This differential impact will have consequences on the ability of the policy to achieve its economic stability and poverty-reduction goals. The development of gender-responsive budgeting and policy is not only necessary for improving the welfare of women, but also to achieving its general public goals.

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Part 5

Mainstream Economics & Gender

In this fifth and final lecture in the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s “Feminist Economics” series, Professor Jayati Ghosh explores some of the shortcomings of mainstream economics. Heavily reliant on unrealistic assumptions and stylized models, mainstream economics has a narrow approach which often descends into trivial pursuits. Mainstream models tend to propose policies which are are not very relevant and sometimes even pernicious. Economics remains a male-dominated profession concentrated in the Global North, limiting its outlook. Prof. Ghosh urges economics to expand its scope and vision, and outlines several areas where economic policy can and should be adjusted to incorporate a gender-perspective and better address the particular challenges of developing countries. This includes incorporating into general economic policy consideration of relational time, counter-cyclical macroeconomic policy, reforming taxation regimes, and ensuring price stability of necessities and food security, which are areas that especially affect women. Prof. Ghosh also proposes micro policies beneficial to women, like reforming banking regulations and laws to enable financial inclusion, unionization, and the minimum wage. Prof. Ghosh finally considers the "Green New Deal", and proposes to expand it to a "Multi-colored New Deal" to address a wider range of inequalities. Gender equality is not only good in itself, but also essential for the long-term viability of societies and economies.

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After Class

The HET Website has created a supporting page of resources for those who wish to dig deeper into the references made in the lectures. From economist profiles to schools of thought, and even complete written works, there’s something for everyone!

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About Professor Ghosh

Jayati Ghosh taught Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and has been Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA since January 2021. In 2021 the United Nations named her to be on the High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs.

She has authored and/or edited 19 books (including the co-edited “Elgar Handbook of Alternative Theories of Economic Development, 2014, “India and the International Economy” OUP 2015, and “Women Informal Workers in the Global South” forthcoming with Routledge) and nearly 200 scholarly articles. She has received several national and international prizes, including the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work Research Prize for 2010. She has advised governments in India and other countries, including as Chairperson of the Andhra Pradesh Commission on Farmers’ Welfare in 2004, and Member of the National Knowledge Commission of India (2005-09). She is the Executive Secretary of International Development Economics Associates, an international network of heterodox development economists. She has consulted for international organizations including ILO, UNDP, UNCTAD, UN-DESA, UNRISD and UN Women and is member of several international commissions. She writes regularly for popular media like newspapers, journals, and blogs.

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