Batting for gendered progress

Reviewed by Rajesh Kumar Aggarwal

Harvesting Feminist Knowledge for Public Policy: Rebuilding Progress
by Devaki Jain and Diane Elson, jointly published by International Development Research Centre and Sage, New Delhi. Pages 347. Rs 795

The book corroborates historically and empirically, the fact that , it is often women who bear the bruntwhen an economic crisis hits. The 14 essays in the book draw attention towards growing gender inequalities under the ‘triple crises’ of food, fuel and finance, besides pointing out the crises of water, energy, climate change and women’s unpaid care work.

Elson highlights the importance of social justice and gender equality in a post-crisis world and recommends recognition of unpaid economy, besides ensuring safeguards against entitlement failure and developing social investment and production as the core of the paid economy whose benefits spillover to those who do not directly utilise them. Education, health, good transport system, streetlights, water, sanitation and clean energy systems are important sectors in this regard. Fiscal and monetary policies are typical technocratic exercises focusing on short-term balancing of financial flows though there is a requirement for just and democratic public finances. Sengino explores the salient outcomes of neo-liberalism and feels that rebooting the global economy –with the same set of policies with minor adjustments- does not seem a fruitful option. Devaki Jain hits at the present economic model, which led to a high growth rate without bothering about the food security especially for the poor. She advocates the Gandhian model of development in which women farmers may play a pivotal role in addressing issues of insecurity of food for the underprivileged.

Beneria discusses labour and women work within the contexts of globalisation. She argues under the pretext of TINA (there is no alternative), market fundamentalism and unregulated markets become an integral part of the hegemonic development models, leading to less stable labour markets, the near-absence of labour unions, and less defined promotion criteria. During the past two decades, there has been feminisation of migration and women are now in many cases the first family members to move in countries such as Latin America, Ecuador and Philippines, which calls for restructuring the labour markets on the one hand and redefining the gender division of labour within households so that men take up their share of care responsibility on the other.

Drawing experiences from SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), Jhabvala thinks that scaling up activities for women’s organisations is not easy in the absence of funds, proper organisation set-up and representative voice of the worker. Otobe points out the need to have an integral approach towards gender and poverty issues, while Casteneda and Gammage advocates multilateral solutions for climate change crises rather than community or individual nation approach.

The essays by Solita Collas-Monsod (Phillipines), Hiroko Hara (Japan), Lanyan Chen (China) and Marrta Nunez Sarmento (Cuba), quoting data and experiences from their respective countries’ lists some impediments such as nonrecognition of women’s unpaid work, syndrome of male superiority over women and male-dominated managerial culture, failure to promote social organisations, women’s lack of participation in policy making, the burden of second shift (household work) in ensuring gender equality,

The book provides a vivid account of the macro-level gender perspective under the neo-liberalised economic regime, and brings forth the inherent contradictions within the development process and listed priorities