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Fridays Academy: Gender and Economic Growth

Ignacio Hernandez's picture

The Fridays Academy comes on a Saturday this week. As usual, from  Raj Nallari and Breda Griffith's lecture notes.


Theoretical considerations of gender inequality and economic growth (2)


The third approach – critical feminism and gender and development (GAD) – generally opposes the previous two approaches by focusing on the continuing or rising vulnerability of women over the course of economic development.  Forsythe, Korzeniewicz and Durrant (2000) identify two strands to the literature – the first argues that economic development has no effect on gender inequalities and the second argues that economic development actually exacerbates these differences and makes them worse. Writers in the first tradition argue that gender inequalities are so entrenched because of, for example, patriarchal family structures, discriminatory labor practice and property laws that they are resistant to economic growth and development.  Benería (1982), Folbre (1986), Youssef (1972) suggest that gender inequalities provide greater insight to labor force participation in certain regions than economic development.  Furthermore, Semyonov (1980) notes that sex discrimination within the household is more likely in areas with entrenched gender inequalities and finally Draper (1985) notes that educational gains by women have no impact on labor discrimination in societies marked by gender inequalities. As noted, writers in the second tradition take the argument one step further by suggesting that economic growth exacerbates inequalities further. Inequalities are so entrenched that economic growth makes worse the income gap between men and women (Tinker (1976)) and gender inequality continues while Ward (1984) cites that globalization has reduced women’s status relative to men (Forsythe, Korzeniewicz and Durrant (2000)). 


The GAD approach has been used to critique the WID approach. It views the latter as a top-down solution that ignores the particularities of gender inequality. Focusing policies derived from aggregate data on improving the status of women fails to take into account the differential impact on different groups of people by treating gender inequality as an homogenous field. In an area so characterized by social norms, mores, and conventions, this top-down approach may actually exacerbate current inequalities and create new problems (see Elson (1995), Moser (1993), Kabeer (1994), Agarwal (1974), Bandarage (1984), Staudt (1985) all quoted in Forsythe, Korzeniewcz and Durrant (2000)).   


Central to the GAD critique are the concepts of women’s status and gender equality.  The critique raises the question as to whether these concepts are the same, or whether improvements in the status of women implies an improvement in gender equality, or whether they are independent.  Of relevance therefore is not just an improvement in economic and social measures (e.g. income and/or education) but also in the empowerment of women relative to men (Kabeer (1994)).  Moore and Shackman (1996) in examining the relationship between improvements in economic development and women’s empowerment concluded that “neither high levels of economic prosperity nor development of women’s ‘human capital’ through education and employment necessarily results in increased access to authority positions for women” (quoted in Forsythe, Korzeniewcz and Durrant (2000); p. 578).  Similarly Nuss and Majka (1983) also note that improvements in educational attainment and/or fertility do no directly translate into improvements in women’s authority positions.  The GAD approach has been central to the criticisms of the structural adjustment programs of the international financial institutions. As noted before, the criticism has focused on the failure of the economic programs to take into account the adverse impact on certain vulnerable groups, most notably women.  Because women are disproportionately represented among the poor and disempowered, they have been shown to be more vulnerable to the structural adjustment programs.  Buchman (1996) notes in particular the adverse effect of such programs on young women, showing that teenage girls from low-income households were more likely to stay out of secondary enrollment compared to teenage boys. On the other hand, other authors stress the likely positive outcome, even if not immediate, for women from the achievement of long-run growth and poverty reduction emanating from programs of structural adjustment.