INTRODUCTION TO THE FEMINIST APPROACH TO ECONOMICS AND GENDER WAGE GAP

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by Vishakha Nagraj

FEMINIST ECONOMICS

Feminist approach to economics aims to acknowledge the presence of a prevailing masculine perspective of studying economics and the power relations which have not been accounted for. It attempts to include and re-examine issues which may or may not be specific to the market sphere such as domestic work, childcare provided informally, nurturing, human trafficking and illegal drug trades. Capitalist economies thrive on power of inequality in the sphere of gender, class, race, caste, etc. which leads to an inaccurate accountancy of labour and its corresponding product. This inaccuracy can be addressed by including an intersectional analysis of economic studies.

UNPAID HOURS, STEREOTYPES AND GENDER WAGE GAP

Feminists argue that a major component of prevalence of wage gap is domestic labour and care activities performed by women which are often not included in economic analyses as they are perceived to be responsibilities inherent to their sex. Such perceptions are a result of stereotypes propagated by social institutions. Care is intrinsic to well being of the economy, family and the society, be it nurturing the young and the elderly or informal cooking and cleaning for the household. “Despite this importance for well-being, unpaid care work is commonly left out of policy agendas due to a common misperception that, unlike standard market work measures, it is too difficult to measure and less relevant for policies. Yet, neglecting unpaid care work leads to incorrect inferences about levels and changes in individuals’ well-being and the value of time, which in turn limit policy effectiveness across a range of socio-economic areas, notably gender inequalities in employment and other empowerment areas.” Time spent on unpaid care work leads to an inability to contribute to market based labour activities and enhance job quality in the same period of time. It also leads to a “two-fold burden” on women who are expected to pursue paid jobs secondary to their primary “responsibility” of maintaining the domestic sphere. This also leads to lesser market labour force participation by women. Furthermore, one must also take account of intersectionality as a person does not exist solely in terms of gender or class. An intersectional analysis points out the “double jeopardy” which many women of coloured races face. Such social stereotypes and expectations include social stigma against women who choose market-based activities over unpaid care activities and lead to lesser satisfaction and a constant feeling of guilt while pursuing jobs which further fuels the enforcement of gender roles. This also leads to preferences being formed based on sex of the individual while recruiting them which leads to a largely differential sex-ratio of workers. This often leads to that particular job being perceived as a “masculine” or “feminine” sphere thereby, propagating not only the need to possess those “essential” requisite traits but also to lowering of the bar by the opposite sex which they could have aimed for and had the potential to achieve had these stereotypes not been associated with their job in the first place.

INCLUSIVE APPROACHES TO SURVEY METHODOLOGY

Some of the methods to include time-use data to measure unpaid household work. To influence policy-making in areas of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, nationally representative data on time-use could be analysed and used to:

(a) describe differences in time-use allocation for all activities and specifically for paid and unpaid work, by sex, area and age group; and

(b) construct satellite accounts on household production that incorporate the valuation of paid and unpaid work.

Other approaches include replacement-cost analysis which analyses the amount of money that would be spent in order to replace the household worker at present time for the labour put in at the current worth, and opportunity-cost method which measures the amount of money sacrificed owing to the loss of alternatives due to “choosing” to do household work instead.

GENDER AND POVERTY ALLEVIATION: UBI AND A HUMAN RIGHTS BASED APPROACH

Universal Basic Income(UBI) refers to an unconditional, universal, periodic, sum of money offered to each and every individual of the society as a means to achieve higher economic independence, and promote cultural and social participation of every individual to increase levels of efficiency and output in the economy. UBI has been categorized into two methods of implementation, namely, full Basic Income (which would be stable and high enough in size to eliminate material poverty in the society with the help of other policy measures) and partial Basic Income (which would provide lower basic income but aid other policy measures in targeting elimination of material poverty and upliftment of the masses by gradually increasing personal income). Many believe that this will lead to better conditions of those working in the labour market and will lead to more humane conditions. Another impact it could have on the Indian society could be that it would provide higher economic stability to women and children dependent on the karta of the family. However, this argument could be critiqued based on the fact that in a lot of households, women do not have a say in financial planning and have internalized patriarchy to such an extent that they could be coerced into giving up their basic income directly to the karta to manage, which would then defeat the purpose of UBI being given to an individual itself and not to the household as a collective unit, or could be hegemonically manipulated into contributing the amount to management of household at the cost of an opportunity for personal growth. Another argument in support of the UBI could be that it helps in increasing productive results as it eliminates the constant fear of not having a fallback option in case they lose their jobs. However, a counter to that could be that individuals who become habituated to and comfortable with earning just enough in order to survive may not use this opportunity to its fullest potential as they would feel content with the basic income they receive and not strive harder to explore their potential.

Human Rights based approach refers to a framework based on international human rights framework directed towards upholding and protecting basic human rights of all individuals. This method is employed to achieve gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming aims to ensure that women and men, particularly those who are disadvantaged, equally participate in and benefit from the activities of the UN. It also ensures that all implemented projects and programmes consider concerns of women and men and experiences as an integral dimension of their cycles. This intervention ensures that existing egalitarian relations are protected, at the same time preventing the further perpetuation of inequalities and the creation of new ones. Many believe, a rights-based approach drifts away from the narrative of need and focuses on the narrative of staking claims on inherent right to equality and being given equal opportunity to access means to develop in the society and gain legitimacy and attention to basic rights.

MEASURES TO RECTIFY GENDER WAGE GAP

Various measures have been identified which could reduce the wage gap. Pay transparency, better scheduling practices, insurance programs, etc. are some to begin with. Pay transparency refers to transparency regarding payments earned by workers and the criteria for being paid the respective amount. While some may argue that this could propagate social flak towards those who do not earn enough, it could also incentivize the same to work harder in order to attain better pay.  This would also propagate meritocracy which would imply that those who work harder are paid higher- thereby, decreasing feelings of despair and unfairness on not being rewarded regardless of the amount of work put in by them. Better scheduling practices help women in status quo as it allows them to work at an hour suitable to them without having to compromise their “responsibilities” in the domestic sphere. Unstable schedules often lead to them having to choose one over the other which lead to a negative situation regardless of what they choose. Insurance programs could be instituted and regularized on a national basis so that it provides working women a safety net to aid them in the struggles they undergo due to the double jeopardy and also incentivizes unemployed but able women to work. Another way of reducing the wage gap could be by alleviating the conditions/areas wherein women are expected to upkeep – better-age care facilities, nurseries and daycares, better provision of electricity and water, etc.  

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, I would like to  reiterate that gender wage gap is an issue which has far reaching repercussions and requires a greater analysis on productive measures which could be employed to reduce it. Prevailing gap is indicative of rampancy of patriarchy in the society and this article hopes to incentivize one to question the existing social order and norms which thrives on exploitation of a community for being born as the weaker sex in a society which aims to treat equals equally and unequals, unequally.

References:

  1. https://www.oecd.org/dev/development-gender/Unpaid_care_work.pdf
  2. Guide to producing statistics on time use: Measuring paid and Unpaid work, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Publications, Sales No. E.04.XVII.7.
  3. Gender mainstreaming and a human rights-based approach, FAO, pg. 5

Vishakha Nagraj, the author, is a second year law student at Jindal Global Law School.

Featured Image Source: The McGill International Review  

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