The Costs of Undervaluing Women’s Work

Posted first  on 02 April 2012 by lina Abou Habib on WLP Website

On March 29, 2012 WLP-Lebanon/CRTD.A organized a round table discussion on economic indicators and how they measure women’s economic participation, contribution and empowerment.

CRTD.A has been working on the issue of women’s economic rights and participation for more than a decade.

During the past few years, CRTD.A engaged in a regional initiative including five MENA countries with the aim of exploring sustainable economic alternatives for women. The initiative investigated, amongst other things, the issue of women’s invisible work and its contribution to the economy. Research conducted in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Algeria and Morocco revealed that:
• Conventional statistics and indicators fail to capture all the work that women do, especially all the care work that they do for others;
• Women’s care work, including household work, is often a non-negotiable obligation and expectation;
• Household and care work constitute a tangible obstacle towards women’s participation in public and political life, and are major hurdles to their entering and re-entering the job market, as well as to career advancement;
• With states in the MENA region systematically retreating from service provision and securing social entitlements, women are more and more bearing the brunt of care work;
• The entire sector of the care economy in the MENA region is by and large feminized and continues to be hidden, unrecognized, and not valued.

The main conclusion is that indicators measure only what is valued in society and exclude women’s work mainly in view of the poor value attributed to it!

Over the past few years, CRTD.A has been furthering the analysis on the issue of what constitutes women’s work? How is the value of this work attributed? In which way does this value contribute to excluding women not only from public life but also from public policy?

As a result of this work, a round table discussion was organized on March 29, 2012 to look specifically at the mainstream economic indicators with a view to analyze what these indicators measure. How do they measure it? What are the underlying ideologies which determine what is measured and what is left out? What are the implications at the level of policy making? What are the proposed alternatives that serve not only to capture women’s actual contribution to the economy but also to better inform inclusive policies?

The round table discussion was attended by some 40 participants including a small group of researchers and academics from the Lebanese University, the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University and the University of Balamand. Other participants included representatives of local women’s organizations, development organizations, political parties, and UN organizations.

The round table discussion began with an overview of mainstream economic indicators, including a critical analysis of the most commonly used indicators (GDP, GNP, Employment and Unemployment rates, Economic Activity Rates, etc.) and the ideologies on which these indicators are based, namely economic growth, monetary transactions, “trickle-down effect,” etc. The case was made that these indicators fail to recognize the more important non-monetary transactions, which constitute the bulk of work that is required for securing well-being and livelihoods, and exclude costs in terms if depletion of natural and human resources. Alternative indicators were also discussed whilst emphasizing their complex and composite nature and the experimental ways in which they are being implemented in a number of developing and developed countries.

In kicking off this round table discussion, CRTD.A intended to mobilize local actors in engaging in an in-depth and critical debate on women’s economic rights and participation through understanding and critically analyzing how mainstream economic indicators reflect a patriarchal ideology and how they can, alternatively be challenged.

Several of the participants provided excellent commentaries and suggestions on moving forward with the discussion. We have retained further research on the key concepts that underline the feminist analysis of the economy, notably household work, care work, invisible work, formal and informal work, etc. Capacity building on these concepts was also put forward as a priority for action, especially in regards to women’s economic participation and the visibilization and valorization of women’s invisible care and reproductive work.

CRTD.A / WLP-Lebanon is continuing its engagement in the issue of women’s economic rights and participation with a view to produce further pedagogical material, adding to the leadership, political participation, and other training material already produced by the Partnership.

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