As part of the Feminist Futures Programme launch, we have asked five leading economists four broad questions regarding the most pressing issues relating to work and gender today. Below you can find the third question, their responses and their bios. These interviews were led by Autonomy research affiliate Danielle Guizzo.
Many countries are currently discussing recovery policies to support vulnerable households, and these include, for instance, a reduction of the working week and an expansion of unemployment benefits. Do existing government proposals offer an appropriate response to the crisis? Would you propose any alternatives that could benefit women and other groups who have been particularly badly hit?
Governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have tried to varying degrees to carry out public policy actions aimed at mitigating the impacts of the crisis. However, a high percentage of informal employment in the region, alongside weak mechanisms of social security, mean that it has been difficult to achieve an adequate response to the pandemic. On this, it can’t be forgotten that the region is one of the most unequal in the world from a socio-economic perspective. Covid also arrived in the context of slow economic growth, rising poverty, and a resurgence of conservatism, amongst others factors (such as, demographic trends, development pattern, and so on).
Furthermore, Latin American countries often have systematically regressive fiscal policy, coupled with persistent tax evasion and avoidance, both exacerbated by a low tax burden on the high-income individuals and corporations, and an overreliance on indirect taxes (which often come with a gender bias). These are all structural obstacles that need to be overcome to mobilize sufficient public resources to mitigate the consequences of the crisis, and of course to achieve gender equality.
It is important to highlight that during the crisis, inequalities have tended to intensify and recreate, producing new ones such as a digital divide. The crisis has pushed forward the need to promote inclusive processes of digital transformation that guarantee women access to technologies. It has also shown the necessity of ensuring income and health coverage across the social system, to advance toward a new fiscal compact that encourages gender equality and prevents the deepening of poverty levels among women, the burden of unpaid work and the reduction of financing for gendered policies.
To avoid an increase in poverty and protect people from the economic slowdown, social movements and academics have also demanded an introduction of an unconditional basic income as a way of alleviating deprivation, especially in relation to the lives of women, children and girls.
Alma Espino is an economist, researcher (1985-2013) and Director (2007-2009) of the Institute of Economics in the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Administration (FESA), at the University of the Republic (UDELAR) in Uruguay. From 2011 to 2017 she was responsible for “Gender and Economics”, an optional course for undergraduate students at FESA, UDELAR. She is currently a Free Professor at the Institute of Economics FESA, UDELAR, where her main fields of research are the labor market and gender.
Since 1997 she has been the coordinator of the “Development and Gender Area” at the Interdisciplinary Center for Development Studies, Uruguay (CIEDUR), and from 2003 she has been a professor in the Regional Training Program on Gender and Public Policies (PRIGEPP-FLACSO). In 2006 she joined the Latin American Working Group on Gender, Macroeconomics and International Economics.
She is currently a member of the Board of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE), the UN-Women Civil Society Advisory Group for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the National System of Researchers, Uruguay. Espino has worked as a consultant for government agencies and ministries in the country and the region and international organizations (World Bank, UNRISD, UN Women, IDB, ECLAC, UNDP, ILO, and others). She is the author and/or co-author of several articles in peer-reviewed journals, working papers and participates in the writing of several book chapters.
The question makes reference to a reduction in the working week and an expansion of employment benefits, and these are both important policies, but I would be wary of focusing on the world of work without remembering that the common separation between productive and unproductive labour is ultimately fictitious. So beyond measures like a reduced working week, which I will definitely support, others like basic income can also help include vulnerable households that might not otherwise have access to furlough schemes or other employer-led forms of support, and particularly immigrant households who have disproportionately performed ‘essential’ work throughout the pandemic.
Second is a strengthening of basic services and infrastructure, including forms of in-kind public provision. We have seen an escalation in the UK of food bank usage, alongside a rise in debate surrounding free school meals outside of term time, where Marcus Rashford has been at the head of a campaign for better provision. This needs to be strengthened through state involvement that provides key nutritional support, as part of a wider understanding of basic needs.
Finally, we should quickly note how adequately dealing with the demands of care and social reproduction might need to be separated from a broader debate around basic income. There is evidence that women not only find it more difficult to return to the world of work, but also that they’re more likely to find themselves excluded from labour market interventions. So while basic income can capture vulnerable households, specific additional provisions have to be made to support women’s care work: a return, if you like, to a key debate of the past. Not so much ‘wages against housework’, as ‘wages against care work’!
Alessandra holds degrees in Economics from La Sapienza, Rome, and in Development Studies from SOAS, where she completed a PhD on the ‘making’ of cheap labour in the Indian garment industry, with an emphasis on the labour regime characterising the industry and its global and localised patterns of labour control. She writes and teaches on issues related to inequality and trade; global commodity chains and production networks; labour informality, informalisation and labour regimes; global labour standards, CSR and Modern Slavery; feminisms in development; gender and globalization; approaches to social reproduction and reproductive labour; and India’s political economy.
Alessandra has actively engaged with international organizations and NGOs such as the ILO, ActionAid, Labour Behind the Label, War on Want, SEWA-India and Anti-Slavery International on issues related to gender and work, global labour standards, anti-sweatshop campaigning and tackling modern slavery. She is currently Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at SOAS, where she is also a member of the Centre for Gender Studies.
Julie A. Nelson
The US has provided some extensions of unemployment assistance as well as direct stimulus payments to families. But we still don’t have a provision at the federal level for paid sick leave, and (as I write) the federal minimum wage is ridiculously low. As it is still women who tend to lose time to care for sick family members, and women make up about two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the US, these would be important parts of any real recovery plan. About reduced working weeks, I think reducing the standard workweek would bring us closer to full employment and contribute to ecological sustainability (making more realistic our expectations about both work and consumption), as well as promote gender equity. However, the details deserve examination. If schools still run on five-day weeks, shorter work hours per day over five days would do more for gender equity for mothers than would a four-day work week.
Julie A. Nelson is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research interests include feminist economics, economic methodology, ecological economics, and ethics and economics. She is the author of many articles in journals ranging from Econometrica to Hypatia: Journal of Feminist Philosophy; author of a number of books including Economics for Humans (2nd ed. 2018) and Gender and Risk-Taking: Economics, Evidence, and Why the Answer Matters (2017); and co-editor (with Marianne Ferber) of Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics (1993) and Feminist Economics Today (2003). She is editor of the Business Ethics and Economics section of the Journal of Business Ethics, a former Associate Editor of Feminist Economics, and was the 2019 President of the Association for Social Economics.
Abena D. Oduro
In Ghana, measures implemented by government to cushion the general population from the effects of the pandemic, and the government’s measures to stem the spread of the virus included: i) the provision of food to targeted groups living in the two cities that underwent a three-week lockdown, ii) the provision of subsidies on water and electricity that ended in December last year, iii) reduction in the Communication Service Tax, iv) the provision of soft loan facilities to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and v) a guarantee facility to support large businesses.
Households without electricity and those that do not obtain water from the water company would not benefit from the subsidies. Women dominate these small-sized businesses. However, the initial amount allocated to the fund for soft loans was not enough to provide for the majority of these enterprises. In its COVID-19 Alleviation and Revitalisation of Enterprises Support (CARES) Programme that began in November 2020, the Ghanian Government indicated that it would increase the amount allocated to the fund for micro and small businesses.
The medium-term response of government to the pandemic (the period 2021-2023) is to create jobs, promote growth and transform the economy. It expects that 60 percent of jobs created in the private sector will go to women. The CARES programme aims to support women-owned businesses and ensure that they have access to employment. These goals will only be achieved if the proposed Results Framework has key performance indicators that are gender-sensitive.
The CARES programme focuses on output and growth and places little emphasis on social policy. Women’s child care and housework responsibilities increased because of the pandemic as did their exposure to domestic violence. The CARES programme must develop a social policy counterpart that addresses these issues.
Abena D. Oduro is Associate Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics, University of Ghana and co-Director of the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) at the University of Ghana. Her current research interests are in the areas of unpaid care work, intra-household distribution of labour and inequality and climate change. She has publications in journals such as Feminist Economics, The Journal of Development Studies and Development Policy Review. She is co-author of a chapter on gender and assets in The Routledge Handbook of Feminist Economics (forthcoming).
Biden’s American Rescue Plan is an example of a well-targeted program to address the unequal effects of Covid. Of particular importance is the proposed child allowance ($3,600 per child under the age of 6, and $3,000 per child between 6-18), which could substantially reduce child poverty. Expanding unemployment benefits to part time workers, gig workers, and the self-employed is beneficial for the lowest wage workers, in particular women and people of color, as well as all of those workers who face insecure employment.
There are many possibilities with regards to policies to address the effects of Covid on health and the economy. What is important is to define what you want your country, state, city, or town to look like after the crisis. One goal might be that inequality does not worsen and that policies promote greater equality. That requires support to families (especially single parents and those with young children) and to small businesses.
Prior to obtaining her Ph.D. from American University in 1994, Stephanie worked as an economist in Haiti during the pre- and post-Baby Doc era for USAID. That experience shaped her interest in developing countries and issues of inequality. Since then, Stephanie’s research has explored the relationship between intergroup inequality by class, race, and gender, on the one hand, and economic growth and development, on the other. She has also studied the impact of globalization on inequality, the implications of the financial crisis of 2008, gender effects of religiosity, and racial and gender impacts of contractionary monetary policy. More generally, Stephanie has focused on the economics of stratification—that is, the economic institutions that lead to and perpetuate economic inequality. In the policy arena, she has contributed to research on macroeconomic policy tools for financing and promoting gender equality.
At the local level, several years ago, Stephanie began working as a faculty advisor to Uncommon Alliance, a group comprised of members of the community of color and the area police departments. This group formed after community members raised concerns about racial profiling by law enforcement. Since that time, with her co-author, Nancy Brooks, she has conducted numerous studies of Vermont’s traffic stop data to identify and understand racial disparities in Vermont policing, and some of those studies are listed below.
In addition to her appointment in the Economics Department, Stephanie is a Research Associate of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and a Fellow of the Gund Institute for the Environment. Her work has appeared in Cambridge Journal of Economics, Development and Change, Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, and World Development, among others. She is co-editor of two books, Critical and Feminist Perspectives on Financial and Economic Crises (2015), and Inequality, Development, and Growth. Co-editor. (2011). She has been fortunate to be able to work as advisor or consultant to numerous international organizations including the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, the Asian Development Bank, UNDP, US AID, and UN Women.