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 fourth and final question, their responses and their bios. These interviews were led by Autonomy research affiliate Danielle Guizzo.
How do you see the role of think tanks in terms of effectuating change in the current context?
The role of think tank can be very important, given the need for social and political consensus, to creatively strengthen the ability of governments and social organizations to advance on public policy proposals.
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.
I think that the role of think tanks in pushing for policy changes during Covid can be crucial if they aim or are able to recentre the debate on recovery towards the care economy and social reproduction in general – rather than an exclusive focus on narrowly conceived understandings of production and labour.
The crisis has exposed the problem of care in the context of the highly privatised system, and so if we are to learn lessons and use this crisis as an opportunity to rethink social policy, we need to make sure that discussions start from care and social reproduction as opposed to addressing them only tangentially, which is generally characteristic of neoliberal states like the UK and many others.
As such, if think tanks are able to produce studies, briefs, and policy interventions that explore the different ways in which we can actually strengthen support care and carers in the reproductive sectors this may hopefully open the door for a more just future where reproductive provision is not thought of as an unpaid contribution made by certain groups but rather essential to the economy, as they should be.
For some of them, this would be a massive jump and reorganisation in thought and policy, because even many think tanks from the left still have their eyes stuck on a particular productive schema where they only see paid worker interventions as the main focus of the crisis. I think the present context doesn’t allow us to follow this particular recipe any longer.
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
From what I understand, the rising power of the right wing in US politics was in large part driven by some conservative think tanks that worked hard on crafting specific “messages” that would grab attention. They then worked to make sure that these were repeated over and over by many conservative media outlets and policymakers, all following the same script. For example, attaching the label “death panels” was effective in killing sensible Obama administration proposals about planning end-of-life care. As an academic, my own skills are clearly more in research rather than in effective messaging to the public. I think it could be very helpful for feminist and progressive think tanks to focus on such messaging and communication.
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
Think tanks must play the role of a torch that throws light on issues that are kept in the background but that are critical to the wellbeing of citizens. They must provide data, evidence and analyses that will galvanise the support of the citizenry for issues that are important and therefore put pressure on government for change.
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).
Think tanks are where academic research and policy come together. They are fundamental to devising innovative policies that are designed to address underlying inequalities in our economies.
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.