UN Women/Ryan Brown Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/51431730@N04/23711415223

The global economy is gendered: resistance to feminist research reminds us why it is needed

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As a PhD student, I often have to explain the objective and rationale behind my research project. On several occasions, I have been surprised by my interlocutors’ reactions, who honestly believed that gender inequality within our economies is ancient history. The current pandemic and its economic and political consequences are painful reminders that crises are never gender-neutral. The pandemic has brought to light how women are on the frontline of those negatively impacted[1] and exploited[2], always picking up ‘the slack during crises, taking on more of the socially reproductive work in the economy and stepping in where social and care services are lacking’[3].

Their reactions are even more surprising given the countless and irrefutable theoretical contributions by feminist researchers that document the centrality of social relations, both historically and today, concerning economic and political outcomes as well as global injustices[4]. Women’s labour is differently integrated, valued and impacted within the economy, and their position within it is compounded by intersections with other social markers such as race, class, age, dis/ability and sexuality.

Studies show the embodied nature of current global economic processes of development, international commerce, debt, migration[5][6][7][8][9] and their gender uneven effects[10][11][12]. These gendered globalised structures reinforce material inequalities and result in the perpetuation of violence against women across the globe from domestic violence, economic exploitation to war crimes as Jacqui True’s work[13] reveals.

Given this wealth of research, I have been reflecting upon the resistance that I witnessed from my audience. I argue that what causes such unreceptivity to gender issues, is not the lack of evidence nor the realisation that liberal promises of capitalist economic development serve to oppress women and marginalised populations. Rather, the source of such insensitivity is rooted at a deeper identical level, in the sense that our economic system and its violent inequalities are built upon and are consistently reproduced through power social relations which we are all a part of.

Our governments, markets and societies are not natural forces evolving independently from us, and the gender discrimination and inequalities that we face nowadays are not the remnants of impersonal ancient history. Our political and economic institutions are socially constructed and recreated everyday[14][15]. Put simply, we are and we make the governments, the markets, the corporations, and their style of doing business/politics. Routinely we infuse gender in the organisation of our companies and family households, in the day-to-day management practices, commerce and policy work.

As one can imagine, these notions have potentially personal and deep identical implications for people[16]. Those particularly privileged by such social structures can experience these questions as personal attacks whereby one’s accomplishments may have been built on their favoured socio-structural status independently from their own merit. Furthermore, these interventions raise questions about our direct responsibility and investment in international, public and private processes which reinforce gender-discriminatory structures.

This introspective work can be even more costly as these hierarchies of privilege are perpetuated by a system of rewards and incentives that encourage behaviours that reproduce them. This reflection shows once again the interconnection between the personal and the international, the private and the public. The fact that we are still having to justify why gender issues are still salient is proof that more feminist research is needed to uncover, analyse and vulgarise the way gendered practices reproduce unequal international political economies. Finally, we must somehow resolve the tension between convincing people of the urgency of addressing gender injustices whilst doing so by pointing out their complicity and/or passivity in reproducing them.