From profit to provisioning: A gender-equitable public policy (Marina Durano, DAWN)
Source: DAWN informs

December 2008

Marina Durano’s presentation at the Panel on Gender- Equitable Public Policy: Best Practices and New Options, Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development, 30 November 2008

One question that was prominent in the discussions during the review of the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development was the appropriate place for gender equality. The Monterrey Consensus, reiterating previous United Nations commitments, was clear that an important goal was to achieve gender‐sensitive economic development.

As an important step in answering this question, it would help to identify the public policies that could be implemented in order to achieve the desired objective. In other words, it would be useful to understand what constitutes gender equitable public policy given that one of public policy’s purposes would be to promote gender equality.

Feminist economics is useful in starting this conversation because it also asks questions about the purpose of economics itself. In the words of Diana Strassman, “[b]y and large feminist economists hold economic thought to a standard that requires it to be more responsive to the needs and well‐being of women and their families.” In more general terms, economics should look more into provisioning to benefit human lives.

Such an approach implies the importance of human development that would “insist that a fundamental part of the good of each and every human being will be to cooperate together for the fulfillment of human needs and the realization of fully human lives,” to quote Martha Nussbaum when she wrote on the subject in 2004.

This definition stands in contrast to the typical approach of seeking the most efficient allocation of resources for producing goods and services. How do societies provide for its members? We are most familiar with the production of goods and services that are exchanged in the market; although some are consumed directly by the producers while others are exchanged through barter. The exchange of goods and services across international borders and even between the present and future in the markets are facilitated by financial products, including currency, lending instruments, among others. There is another aspect that is not fully acknowledged in policy circles and that is the labor expended for the caring of oneself and of others, who are usually members of the same household but not necessarily so.

After understanding the structure of an economy, the next question to be asked is who the key actors in these spheres are. Many are familiar with companies and workers, or with landlords and farmers, or with selfemployed informal sector workers, or landless laborers. Less recognized is women’s labor, often unpaid, in the performance of caring functions. Women’s social assignment is to care for others, especially in the absence of institutions that provide care. It is possible to purchase caring services from the market but for households in poverty, this is not accessible. Governments can provide services but in the face of severe budgetary restrictions or situations of conflict, such services many not be available. For many households, the default solution is to rely on women’s work.

In designing gender‐equitable public policy, it is important to understand the division of responsibility over the varying aspects and processes of provisioning for the improvement of well‐being. This understanding is necessary for making decisions over the distribution of material and labour resources that members of society need for survival, maintenance and prolongation. What we consistently find is that the assignment of responsibilities for care is skewed towards women, to the extent that it limits her ability to participate fully in all of society’s activities. Gender‐equitable public policy should be able to address the imbalance in the responsibilities for provisioning.

Stephanie Seguino and Caren Grown’s chapter in the book, The Feminist Economics of International Trade, published by Routledge in 2007, highlights three elements that guide the design of gender‐equitable public policy. These are: equitable access to jobs through the elimination of discriminatory barriers against women; equity between the genders in earning living wages; and, equitable distribution of state resources.

The elements proposed by Seguino and Grown are often reflected as the desired results from policies that balance out different and, sometimes, contradicting social objectives. Among the objectives that need to be balanced out are the following: balance between growth targets and social objectives; balance between market expansion and subsidised public service and regulation; and the balance between promoting property rights and human rights. Many alternative policy proposals seek to achieve coherence among these objectives.

However, for policies to be truly gender‐equitable, they should aim to change and correct the imbalance in the responsibilities for provisioning, particularly in easing the burdens of women. For example, in implementing cash transfer programs, women have been chosen as the primary beneficiaries because their expenditure patterns are closer to socially desired goals, such as health care and education. Benefits have been shown to accrue to the children of women receiving the cash transfers and, yet, the responsibility for ensuring that the sick are cared for and that school assignments are done remains with the women. In this case, the cash transfer program falls short of changing the burdens of responsibility.

This approach to defining gender equitable public policy raises questions on the extent to which gender mainstreaming continues to be a useful strategy. There is no debate as to whether or not there is any need to address discrimination. This is certainly needed and programs that target women specifically are helpful in this sense. However, we need to be able to go beyond these approaches in order to deal with the “systemic issues” on the appropriate role of various social institutions in provisioning for the improvement of well‐being. Public policy must change the incentive structures in society so that the responsibilities for provisioning and care are more evenly carried among states, markets, and households or communities. In doing so, genderequitable public policy contributes to social transformation.

Issue of DAWN Informs, which contains, among others, articles on "Women's Rights and Equality in Doha," "Global Feminist Critical Collaboration," and "Women and Politics on Climate Change." We hope that through this issue, you will continue to find DAWN analyses helpful in your respective advocacies and engagement. As always, we will be happy to receive your feedback and recommendations.

Information and Communications Officer Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)

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