Economics has always been and continues to be a male dominated subject. The theories, the policies are formulated keeping in mind “the rational man”. Economics continues to refer to women as “other” or the second sex, talking about them only with respect to men. Even economic indicators such as GDP continue to be male-centric, ignoring the contributions made by women. It is poignant how women are not recognised for the very work that is expected of them.
Mainstream economics tends to emphasise on the 3 Ms: Money, Machines and Men. It assumes that the consumer makes decisions that are rational and that the economy consists of people motivated by self interest and material goods.
The theory of the marginal product of labor, for instance— the foundational theory in labor economics that workers are paid exactly what they're worth based on the individual value that they create— is hardly true. In 2021, women make only $0.82 for every dollar a man makes.
In addition to this, women have been assigned the role of caregivers and homemakers and their contributions continue to be overlooked. Even the women who work are expected to take care of their households and are under constant scrutiny. They are often passed up for promotions as a result of which women chief executives amount to female leadership for just 8.1% of the Fortune 500 companies.
Feminist economics is the study of economics and economies that focuses on gender-aware and inclusive economic policy. Feminist economics tends to focus on areas that were previously ignored such as the importance of care work, intimate partner violence and how certain models could be improved by becoming more gender-inclusive. It also delves into the value and importance of unpaid work of both men and women.
Women tend to live longer than men, as a result of which they would be using public services for a longer period of time as compared to men. In addition to this they also have to bear the costs that are associated with child bearing and rearing. Furthermore, the cost of products used by women are higher compared to the products used by men. This coupled with the gender pay gap calls for feminist economics. Feminist economics is not “economics for women”, but it is “economics for all”, that focuses on all aspects of the society.
Care is something that is fundamentally required by us. The elderly, the sick, everyone needs to be cared for and nurtured. It is time we realised the role that caregivers play in the economy. An economy that recognises the importance of care and the contribution of caregivers would be ideal for all.
Feminist economics recognises the need for maternity leaves, the need to curb the gender pay gap, the need to appreciate women’s laudable contributions in various fields. It acknowledges that the fundamentals of the economy do not just lie in manufacturing and distribution of goods and services but also in soft skills such as cooperation and care. It cognizes that relationships play an important role in the functioning of society. It recognises how gender bias and discrimination is something that can run inherently in a family and how resources are not always shared equal among members of the same household.
Feminist economics is an all encompassing discipline that has furthered the scope of economics. Times have changed. Men being the breadwinners for the family is no longer the prerogative. Men and women no longer wish to conform to the roles set by society. They are no longer bound by social obligations. It is, therefore, imperative that the field of economics changes with them. Feminist economics is the way forward since it would not only induce an upward trajectory in the global economy but also would lead to more inclusive economic policies and models.
Authored by Simran Kaur Arora, Joint Secretary, Shri Ram Consulting and Research Centre