How is macroeconomics relevant to women’s human rights?
If you listen to a broadcast about an economic policy, all you hear is numbers, figures, inflation rates, and budgets. These terminologies are rarely accessible, and the narrative is presented as scientific, technical and abstract, while masking the political choices and ideologies that lie behind the numbers. For instance, at first glance, none of these seem to relate to gender or have any gender-specific impacts. Numbers, technical discourses, economic jargon, and ‘expert’ opinions are utilised throughout the world, to hide the human effects these economic policies and contexts have. “Such (technical) discourses tend to reinforce patterns of inequality,” observes Lisa Philipps, “while simultaneously serving the important function of legitimizing and normalizing them.”1Philipps, L. (1996). Discursive Deficits: A Feminist Perspective on the Power of Technical Knowledge in Fiscal Law and Policy. Canadian Journal of Law and Society 11(1), 141–176. It also keeps opposition to these policies at bay, by making sure that they are only understandable by a select few.
At least, this was the case up until key feminist economists and feminist economic rights activists showed us and the world that all these economic topics and decisions have very real, tangible gendered impacts. Even though these decisions are presented as if they are neutral and beneficial for all, they are often to the detriment of women and their human rights. Beginning in the 1800s and continuing until today, feminist economists have put the questions of power, human rights, inequalities, and wellbeing to the forefront of their discussions of economic policies.
When we think about macroeconomic policies, understanding their gender-differentiated impacts requires a more analytical approach: an analysis that reveals these impacts by lifting the ‘veil’ of numbers and technical expertise. While the connections of microeconomic policies to our everyday lives seem to be more evident and easier to follow, macroeconomic policies with their big numbers and technical measurements can seem harder to connect to our daily realities. Yet when we analyse them further, their direct impact is indisputable in shaping the overall economic environment for achieving gender equality and women’s human rights. In reality, one cannot separate macro and micro policies or the impact they can have on individual lives.
For example, when a big amount from the national budget is reallocated from education to military spending, we may see this as hampering only the lives of kids, regardless of gender. But when we analyse deeper, we can see that this could (and probably would) have adverse effects on the schooling rates for early childhood education. Due to the predominant gender role of women as caretakers, this then lowers the participation of women in the labour force as they will need to stay at home and look after the pre-school children. Moreover, in contexts where the same gendered role is also played by the female sibling(s), this would mean that girls’ participation and completion of school would be deeply affected.
Analysis of how these developments affect various groups of women and girls differently, differentiated by age, income, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, race, and other characteristics, is another component of macroeconomic policy that is often overlooked.
When an international trade deal affecting tariffs2A tariff is a customs duty, or a form of tax imposed by governments on imported goods and services. Tariffs drive up the price of imported goods, thus making them less desirable in the domestic market. Governments use tariffs to protect domestic industries which may not otherwise be able to compete with cheap foreign goods. in the textile sector are put into effect, this can affect the quality and availability of work in the industry. It then disproportionately impacts women who often make up an overwhelming percentage of the sector’s labour force and are overrepresented in low-paying and precarious roles.
So when we think about achieving gender equality and ensuring the access and enjoyment of women’s human rights for all women and girls, we need to think about and work on macroeconomic policies, because of their impact on the lives of and opportunities for all women and girls.
- 1Philipps, L. (1996). Discursive Deficits: A Feminist Perspective on the Power of Technical Knowledge in Fiscal Law and Policy. Canadian Journal of Law and Society 11(1), 141–176.
- 2A tariff is a customs duty, or a form of tax imposed by governments on imported goods and services. Tariffs drive up the price of imported goods, thus making them less desirable in the domestic market. Governments use tariffs to protect domestic industries which may not otherwise be able to compete with cheap foreign goods.