Advancing a feminist approach to women’s economic inequality

15 November 2019 | Minutes

Panellists Jenny Ricks (moderator), Kalpana Kochar, Crystal Simeoni, Wangari Kinoti, Bilquis Tahira, Shirakat and Jan Hochadel.


  • Jenny Ricks (moderator), Global Convenor of Fight Inequality Alliance (FIA)
  • Kalpana Kochar, Director, Human Resources Department
  • Crystal Simeoni, Head of Advocacy and Economic Justice Lead, Femnet
  • Wangari Kinoti, International Policy Advisor at ActionAid International
  • Bilquis Tahira, Shirakat
  • Jan Hochadel, co-chair the inter-American regional executive committee of Public Services International (PSI) and American Federation of Teachers Connecticut (AFT)

Summary of presentations (not verbatim)

Jenny Ricks, FIA (moderator): 10 years on from global financial crisis, women are experiencing the fallout. Economic inequality has risen hugely during that time. We see a massive concentration of power and wealth.The global economy is skewed against the global south.

Narrative of women entering the labour market to catalyse growth. There is a disconnect with macroeconomic policies.

Kalpana Kochar, IMF:

  • I have been speaking on these panels for 5 years and want to acknowledge that these panels give food for thought. The challenge presented by speakers views are useful for IMF.
  • The IMF has a mandate that constrains it to work in certain areas. It has a limitation and can only do what is consistent with that mandate but can be flexible if it is macrocritical.
  • Getting women to participate in labour force broadens the talent pool in the market and raises productivity, increases profit.
  • Most recent work on unpaid care work shows the disproportionate burden on women. This work is not the end of this issue but the start of looking and working on the subject. What policies can the IMF recommend to close gender gaps?
  • In line with expertise and mandate work is complementary to what others do: fiscal policies (capital spending on infrastructure, provision of childcare). Huge programme on gender budgeting.
  • Regarding the critique of an instrumental approach, short of a revolution, you change policies from within so getting women into the system and change it from within. No one way of tackling it – it is done through multiple ways.
  • Regarding the critique that we do not look at the gendered impacts of our macroeconomic policies, we are working through models to measure the impact of IMF policies on gender. Models starting to be used in surveillance work.

Crystal Simeoni, FEMNET:

  • “The more things change the more they stay the same”
  • I will start from the perspective of the feminist struggle, but also the pan-African perspective against neoliberalism and combined to what we call a Pan African feminist struggle and ideology.
  • For real change to happen, we need to address structural and systemic issues, but we also need to remember to locate this in historical perspectives. The same models of oppression, extraction and global power dynamics continue to play just in different formulations. The underlying structural inequality remains the same.
  • The industrial revolution happened on the back of 22 millions of hours of unpaid work. But this doesn’t take into consideration the social reproductive work of women. Huge contribution of global South to the global economy.
  • Aligned movement – Nkrumah, Nasser, – Third way- arguing for fairer global economic system, fair representative at UN. But we all know what happened there.
  • At the Addis Ababa Financing for Development conference in 2015, southern countries were basically given two options: domestic resource mobilisation or the private financing to fund our development. We see a growing movement towards private financing for public problems.
  • PPPs are the new kid on the block: but we must question the viability of them; if the private sector doesn’t see profitability of sectors, then they don‘t invest. Then where are African women left?
  • African governments are seen as incapable of providing public services. Cascade approach from the World Bank leaves African citizens paying high user fees.
  • We need to link struggles because a fight for happy dignified lives depends on an intersectional approach to systemic and structural issues.

Wangari Kinoti, ActionAid International:

  • There isn’t one single feminist approach to women’s economic inequality. It needs to be all interlinked.
  • Among the common concerns of those who us who take feminist approaches is the need to look at instrumentalization of women’s economic empowerment. We have moved from the inadequate attention to individual women or groups of women through skills training, access to credit schemes etc while overlooking the structural barriers that impact the economic rights of all women. So there has been some progress there.
  • But we still see gender inequality being addressed in economic policy as a means to ‘untap business potential’, increase productivity or drive up profits.
  • This kind of framing is still prominent on the platforms and in the corridors of this very building [the World Bank and IMF]. Language and framing is powerful and it has to be intentional. And it is of concern for those of us who place human beings and human rights at the centre.
  • What we should be talking about is yes redistribution of unpaid care work at the household level but need to look beyond this. Problematic to speak about unpaid care work done by women and girls as inefficient [referring to the IMF] That’s why us feminists are calling for the recognition and valuing of unpaid care and domestic work. We are saying that this work produces and maintains the labour force within the household but also extending into paid care and domestic work in the public sphere.
  • Redistributing isn’t just to free them to participate in paid work but also so they have time for rest and leisure. Most urgently we’re calling for the redistribution of the burden of unpaid care work at household and redistributing to the state and that’s why speaking about austerity is important.
  • Looking at special report from the UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights – it highlights complicity within IFIs on negative impacts on human rights from austerity and disproportionate impacts on women. This includes austerity-driven fiscal consolidation measures and economic reforms, such as those encouraging labour market flexibilization reductions in the coverage of social protection benefits and services, cuts to public-sector jobs and the privatization of services.
  • Important to recognise the centrality of gender-responsive public services for any kind of progress on fulfilling human rights for women and girls. Young women are organizing in multiple ways to confront the lack of quality public services and infrastructure as the main reason behind their unpaid care and domestic work burden, and as a key impediment to their bodily integrity, their ability to access decent work opportunities and simply live lives of dignity. For them this is the goal – not economic growth. At the root of their experiences is the reality of macro-economic policies that effectively erect structural barriers to social and economic rights while exploiting both their paid and unpaid labour.

Jan Hochadel, PSI and AFT Connecticut:

  • Seen first-hand privatisation of education throughout teaching career. IBM taking over schools, promising goals that hadn’t been proved anywhere else.
  • Free public education is an essential ingredient for preparing students. Privatisation leaves students out. Quality education is unreachable.
  • Governments that privatise education services and health find the most vulnerable are left out. But this has been ignored and governments are still pursuing privatisation.
  • Bridge International Academies is an example of low-fee schools that work on flawed assumptions: not necessarily access to computers and tablets by all students
  • Stop promoting PPPs especially as a condition of financing.
  • Promote transparent financing to promote good quality public services like health an education
  • Promote fair taxation systems.

Bilquis Tahira, Shirakat:

  • While critiquing IMF we’re not condoning our national governments because they also have responsibility.
  • A Pakistani woman isn’t a homogeneous group. Various levels of discrimination (ethnic, class, income, etc.).
  • Literacy rate is 58%, 48% for women whereas 78% for men.
  • 2/3 of out of school children are girls.
  • Labour force participation rate is 22%
  • Pakistan has been in IMF programmes since 1958. What this means for women:
  • 1) Poverty of opportunity: when prices go up, women are faced with an increased burden to manage household income and top it up with their labour. Girls suffer most. First budget cut is on girls’ education and take on more unpaid care work. Situation keeps repeating itself.
  • 2) Women’s rights organisations question basic macroeconomic theory that donors have been following. It’s at fault, we need to re-examine it and instead of putting money at the centre we need to put people at the centre. We are challenging capitalism which is a type of fundamentalism.
  • 3) Access to social services gets very limited and women begin to face many levels of poverty:
  • What we are asking for is “let’s look at when 90 years ago we had another system. Let’s find a system that puts people at the centre of the discussion, human beings and women at the centre of the discussion.”
  • Feminist economists have an answer to that so let’s come out of denial: these macrocriticalities don’t work, neoliberalism doesn’t work. We need to find an alternative.

The Q&A for this discussion was not captured.