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Striving for parity: Gender equality’s role in economic development

Economic growth has been stunted as a byproduct of the current COVID-19 outbreak, ultimately altering the existing normalcy. The pandemic has thrown many livelihoods into disarray and has forced individuals to deviate from their usual routine. But as we look further at this health crisis, more and more details emerge, all of which point to an aggravating economic disparity between men and women.

While it is conspicuous that the economy is stagnating, owing in large part to the incidence of COVID-19, women losing their work is also a factor in economic distress. Women of color, Hispanic women, and Asian women are the most affected as a consequence of ineffectively implemented measures that hardly address disparities. Dr. C. Nicole Mason coined the word “she-cession” to describe the combination of work losses and expanded caregiving employment at home.

Job reductions were followed by a shortage of face-to-face employment, further limiting mobility in seeking a decent job. Women, on the other hand, seemed to be opting for low-paying jobs.

Unpaid work, such as childcare and housework, take up more time for women than it does for men. Women spend an average of 4 hours and 22 minutes a day in unpaid labor around the world, compared to just 2 hours and 15 minutes for men. This chasm has been expanded even further by COVID-19. Women now work 15 hours more a week in unpaid labor than men.

Historically, housework has always been undervalued as a consequence of capitalism, culminating in women’s labor being mistreated. This concept can be better received by looking at Marxism and feminism from distinct viewpoints. The former emphasizes the social connections of labor in various economic forms of production, whilst the latter alludes to the conviction in gender equality on social, economic, and political levels.

Women’s housework is part of capitalism’s social reproduction, according to Marxist feminists. In a broad sense, social reproduction refers to the act of directly caring for oneself and others, which includes domestic chores. However, these actions are not deemed as a valuable activity in the framework of a capitalist system. Domestic workers are essential as they recreate people’s daily lives and their capacity to operate, but their ability to produce commodities that capitalists can reap from is absent. 

Moreover, seeing as domestic workers are positioned in private households, which have little or no supervision, control, and legitimate contractual arrangements, employees have more autonomy in setting conditions on their own according to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) initiative “Decent Work for Domestic Workers.” Employers, on the other hand, would most certainly take actions that favor them the most. Considering these conditions, the worst-case scenario would be to blatantly ignore the security of domestic workers.

(Read: Servants of Capitalism)

Gender equality is a catalyst in achieving socio-economic development

Capitalists “compensate” laborers through wage for the replenishment of their workforce, but this only compensates for consumption of commodities, not for caring services, as per Karl Marx, a German philosopher. Laborers can be regarded as a type of exchange value, with capitalists reaping the benefits of the system through profiting from their efforts. This is evident in the Marxist Feminism philosophy, which emphasizes the exploitation of women in their labor.

According to Marxist feminists, imperialism, which has dominated the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, leans on oppressive gender assumptions as well as women to address the overproduction dilemma, which has arisen because commodities are what augment capitalist fortune. This became the driving factor behind lower salaries as well as the extraction of newly undiscovered resources. Women consequently suffer from discriminatory treatment as a byproduct of the ignored and devalued social reproduction.

Historically, patriarchy ruled, with women regarded as merely servants. This, according to Marxist feminists, is indispensable in the capitalist economy and can be eradicated if women, as workers, join the proletariat movement against capitalism, consequently opposing sexist values and abusive social norms.

(Read: Marxian Political Economy)

In 2006, the Global Gender Gap Report was published with the main initiative of increasing global awareness on the issues concerned with gender inequality. It is founded on the ideology that without gender equality, economies and cultures would perish.

Reports from the years 2020 and 2021 led to the realization that there is a larger gap to be bridged from the estimate of both years by looking at four critical areas: economic opportunity, political power, education, and health.

Rather than the 99.5 years outlined in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, the recent 2021 report estimates that it will take an average of 135.6 years for women and men to achieve equality on a set of attributes around the world. With only a slight increase over the last year, economic gender disparity is not expected to be eradicated until the year 2288.

Industries wherein gender disparity is most dominant are also identified. Conspicuously, sectors that need disruptive technological skills are more likely to have gender bias. Women make up 14% of the workforce in Cloud Computing, 20% in Engineering, and 32% in Data and AI.

Such a phenomenon, meanwhile, may also be observed in the health-care industry. Regardless of the fact that 70% of health workers and first responders are women, they are compensated much less than their male coworkers. The scourge, as per the UN Women’s recent report From Insights to Action, will sweep 96 million people into severe poverty by 2021, with 47 million of them being women and girls. When combined with industries where disparity is also magnified, the effect will be far heavier and disproportionately slanted toward females.

Disparity in the Philippines

In the results of a July 2018 Labor Force Survey (LFS), unadjusted, the pay gap against women is at 4.84%, with the geometric means of pay for men at P361.60 and women at P344.91.

On the other hand, with independent adjustments on pay difference regarding the participants’ academic achievement and primary careers, the findings show an improvement in the pay differential to 26.8% and 24.5%, respectively.

The pink tax, the value that producers impose on women commodities, is another indicator of gender discrimination. It intensifies the social and economic disparities that exist between men and women. This initiative, to tax the beauty industry, however, is assumed to be more appropriate than putting a tax on gasoline.

Rodel Batocabe, Ako Bicol Partylist Representative, on his bill, asserted, “Raising the 20% excise tax on perfume and toilet waters to 30% would be preferable than any rise on our fuel prices.” 

Apart from the obvious sexism against women, this sparked a flurry of complaints. One significant consequence would be the expansion of  gray and black markets for cosmetics, which would potentially damage local businesses.

Pertinent to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 of the WEF, one important field to consider among the other three distinct scopes (economy opportunity, education, and health), is the lack of political participation of women.

The decrease of female representation in the cabinet fell from 25% to 10% between 2017 and 2019. Female participation in the Congress has also decreased marginally, to 28% at the start of 2019.

“The Philippines’ ranking may have dropped but this will not discourage but rather motivate us even more to work on breaking gender-based stereotypes and misogyny so that women are given equal opportunities with men,” as stated by Dr. Rhodora Bucoy, chairperson of The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the principal coordinating body for issues concerning women and gender equality. 

Perhaps the incentive is spurred by a research undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme, which indicated that 9 out of 10 people in the world are still biased against women, with over 80% considering that men have a greater right to a profession when occupations in the labor force are limited. This, too, illustrates how discrepancies can be destabilizing socially and economically, ultimately jeopardizing the fundamental equality and economic opportunities in the workforce. Fostering gender discrimination, these phenomena have the tendency to impede overall production and capacity.

On a better note, the Philippines came in 17th position out of 156 countries upon having the minimal difference between men and women. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, it has narrowed the gender gap by 78.4% to date.

“We will reinforce our partnerships with different national government agencies to ensure that educational, health, and economic services are provided to women. We will continue to work for the increased participation and representation of women in government seats, political parties, development councils and planning bodies, as provided in the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act 9710),” Bucoy added.

“Equality is a driver for economic growth”

The difference of the present worldwide labor force participation rate between men and women has widened to over 26% as an outcome of the aforementioned situations. Women’s participation is at 49%, whereas men’s participation is over 75%.

McKinsey Global Institute, a firm assisting organizations in bringing about the Change that Matters, projected how women’s occupation loss rates appear to be 1.8 times more vulnerable to COVID-19 than men’s job loss rates across the world, at 5.7% and 3.1%, respectively; and this occurrence can be primarily rooted to the culprit: gender inequality.

(Read: COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects)

“Equality is a driver for economic growth,” as stated by Vera Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, further enunciating how such balance boosts economic growth. 

Many people would then ask how and when this widely envisioned gender balance would be reached, along with all the good things that come with it.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), an autonomous body created to improve the implementation of gender equality, illustrated the result of their new study on the economic benefits of gender equality in the European Union (EU) launched last March 8, 2017.

Highlighting from the said report, it was elicited how advancements in gender parity are expected to create up to 10.5 million new jobs, additionally bringing the European Union (EU) employment rate to nearly 80% by the year 2050.

Untangling the knot

The Shadow Pandemic public awareness campaign, which focuses on the global rise in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 health crisis, was released successfully last May 27, 2020 by UN Women, the United Nations body committed to gender equality and female empowerment.

“Even before the pandemic, violence against women was one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Since lockdown restrictions, domestic violence has multiplied, spreading across the world in a shadow pandemic,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, rationalizes the initiative.

Last April 2020, the United Nations elicited the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, wherein majority of the data showcased that women were more affected. 

In order to completely counteract the seemingly worsening consequences of disparity, the McKinsey Global Institute study recommends six forms of intervention: financial incentives and support; technology and infrastructure; economic development emergence; building capacity; advocacy and attitude shaping; and laws, policies, and regulations. The private sector, encouraged to conduct greater positive countermeasures in conjunction with government agencies, nongovernmental groups, and businesses, will propose the aforementioned methodology suggestions.

Gender inequality has always existed in social structure; and according to studies, parity will only be achieved in approximately 267 years, more than two centuries from now. If such concerns are not remedied immediately, the proportion of women who are adversely and unfairly afflicted will continue to have an upward trend, resulting in a ripple effect that will ultimately influence subsequent generations; all of which are undesirable to acquire and inherit especially that we are in the midst of consequent economic recessions. 

COVID-19 illuminated a condition that has already persisted prior to the downturn; systematic wage disparity between genders, vanity product taxes, and unequal job opportunities are manifestations brought about by gender inequality. 

Parity can be achieved as each citizen has the freedom and responsibility to convey the message of reducing gender discrimination; every individual is capable in empowering a nation to acquire more cohesive values and beliefs, ultimately narrowing the gender gap. It is expected of us to assert how abolishing internal misogyny as well as establishing laws that guarantee and safeguard women’s economic independence and self-determination will always be another leap towards attaining gender parity sooner than predicted. [P]

Layout by Vince Dizon

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