Comments, Economy, In Focus

Women: productive and undervalued producers

They contribute to an economy that ignores them, that fails to recognise their efforts, that condemns them to poverty and that perpetuates the regressive role of mother – worker – domestic, even though women  have jobs outside of the home.

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Ana Galera


As Caroline Sweetman says “The feminist economists champion the importance of unremunerated work as a support for the remunerated economic activities”.

What is certain is that the market economy and orthodox economists ignore the gender differences in our society, basing their studies on the presupposition that there is complete equality between men and women, and, therefore, no gender exists, only individuals.

This would be the ideal, but the reality is something else and social and economic differences do exist.

The traditional economy is based on payment: prices, purchases and sales. This vision fails when it ignores the value of unremunerated labour that does nonetheless contribute to the economy. This is labour, in the most part, carried out by women. While the homo economicus may be something asexual, just an individual that  labours and generates wealth, this is taking the perspective, to quote Oscar Wilde, of “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.

The reality of motherhood it is important, and it defines a woman within society. A woman is both mother and carer, while men traditionally play the role of provider. The role of carer is so engrained that even paid positions within the labour market that are filled by women, are related to this role. Typical jobs for women include teachers, nurses, cooks, seamstresses and other such positions related to “caring” for a male boss, such as secretarial and administrative roles.

These jobs are not usually as well paid than more typically male dominated jobs and often have a bad reputation. They are jobs that nobody wants to do because they are seen as unpleasant and are deemed to be the lowest on the employment scale, such as cleaning or caring for the sick and the elderly. These jobs that are seen to lower  self esteem and many of the people who do them are ashamed of their position. This goes without saying when prostitution is mentioned.

However, the jobs that women have always done and without charge, are those within the home, including caring for  family. These are jobs that have no determined hours or contracts, and are “awarded” for simply being born a woman.

In many cultures, if not all, marriage represents a contract for a woman to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in exploitative conditions that border on slavery.

With the arrival of globalisation women have become an important factor within the market economy, as they are the ideal labour force in the production lines of light industries and services. Especially in the electronics industries that require repetitive work and manual skill. However, these are also jobs with low salaries and poor working conditions.

It may seem that earning a wage and entering the labour market gives more power to women within our society. But this is not the case. Instead it has created the phenomenon of superwoman. Now women have two jobs, that of carer and also provider.

They have not been freed from their gender-inherited role of carer. In the end the greatest responsibility in the family falls on them, and commonly, in a couple a woman’s wage is considered as money for everyday expenses because it is usually lower than the man’s. So women have to turn themselves into superwomen capable of doing everything.

It is normal in modern societies for women to suffer from chronic fatigue and stress, and this has nothing to do with being the so called “weaker sex”. But as the “lighter” industries continue to grow, typically male dominated industries, like  construction, are in decline. This can result in many families with the man out of work and so it is the woman who takes on the role of provider and brings home the only wage.

However, this does nothing more than frustrate men who do not understand this changing of roles. These men feel depressed to be out of work, and may be violent out of  fear of losing their social status.

This can often turns into a cause for domestic violence, because when faceing  a loss of power, some men would prefer to maintain it with force.

But when speaking about the economy we must also take consumers into account. Yes, it is true that women are much bigger consumers than men. But, that is because women consume for the whole family, especially for their children, and  men usually consume only for themselves, thinking about luxuries or vices.

The feminist economy defends the claim that if women had economic power they would invest more in the education and the health of their children than anything else. The importance of education in the construction of a better society is already clear.

But women are poorer than men, and in fact represent 70% of the population of the world.

And it’s a difficult circle to break, given that when a family doesn’t have money for the education of their children, they almost always bet on the education of a boy before a girl, in this way denying the girls the possibility of entering the market economy and gaining social-economic power.

This is the framework that feminist economists contemplate as they develop their theories.

An example of its importance is when a government decides to make cuts in education, health and social assistance.

The work does not dissappear, but women do it for free and it often takes up the time that they could be spending in paid work.

This makes it seem like the government is saving money but what is really happening is that women are working without recognition, contributing to an economy that ignores them and fails to recognise their effort, and that is also condemning them to poverty.

(Translated by Tim Huntington – Email: tims.lucky17@googlemail.com)

Ana Galera

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