1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Project: Policy Report on Gender and Development: 10 Years after Beijing

Summary of the sections of the report

  • Project from: 2003 to 2005

The UNRISD report is divided into four broad sections.

Macroeconomics, well-being and gender equality: This analysis of macroeconomic policies from a gender perspective begins by reviewing the many areas of contention thrown up by the neoliberal agenda, the currently dominant economic policy model. There has been a tendency by mainstream analysts to treat macroeconomic policy as a gender-free or gender-neutral zone, and to ignore the gender impacts of policy choices; yet all outcomes in terms of growth, structural transformation, equality, poverty and social protection have implications for gender equality or for lessening gender inequality. This review also examines whether heterodox macroeconomic policies have performed any better than neoliberal models in achieving growth and social equity, and if so whether they have served the goal of gender equality any more effectively.

Women, work and social policy: The section considers how policy reforms associated with the liberalization of the economy have transformed the world of work and people’s access to social security more broadly, and the implications for low-income women in particular. The past decade has seen the emergence of women as the dominant workforce in various sectors of the economy, with many potentially positive implications. However, much depends on what kind of work is available to them, and the degree to which seeking paid work represents a distress strategy to sustain family livelihood. At the same time women have been facing additional burdens in their domestic management and care roles. The key question posed is whether some of the opportunities that have recently opened up for women compensate adequately for the burdens and risks that the same policy agenda has thrust upon society, and particularly upon women. While numerous innovative initiatives by civil-society organizations, social movements and government bodies address the insecurity of livelihoods confronted by informal women workers, the standard reforms in social security (such as pensions) and service provision (such as health sector reforms) have tended to widen gender gaps. Gender analysis rarely informs social policy, and tends to remain a “silent term”, marginalized from policy debates.

Women in politics and public life: The section strikes a different note: in these contexts, women’s increased visibility is conspicuous. The section begins by holding a magnifying glass to one of the great achievements of the last decade, women’s increased prominence in formal political institutions and elected assemblies. Enthusiasm for the greater show of female hands in representative bodies, however, needs to be tempered by the recognition that entrenched male biases and hierarchies still exist, and there is a long way to go before anything resembling parity is reached in most political environments. Another focus of this section is women’s activism within civil society, especially in the light of political movements which mobilize around faith, ethnic identity or nationalism, and which have their own reverberations concerning femininity and women’s rights. Female visibility in this context has ambivalent characteristics. On the institutional side, the current enthusiasm for “good governance” and the associated institutional reform agenda, especially the decentralization of decision-making structures, comes under scrutiny; are women making real or superficial gains by such devices as quotas and “reservations”?

Gender, armed conflict and the search for peace: The proliferation since the end of the Cold War of internal or civil wars, the holdover conflicts from the postcolonial era, and the major military incursions associated with the contemporary “war on terror” have important implications for women. The 1990s saw widespread recognition that rape was commonly used as a weapon of war, and that sexual assault was a feature of any setting engulfed by turmoil and armed violence; but the implications of modern forms of war for women in their socially constructed and livelihood roles have not been given similar attention. Women have been noticed as programmed for peace—as instigators of peace initiatives or conflict resolution; this chimes with the idea of the quintessentially pacifying female presence. But they are often ignored in the formal negotiations which bring postconflict institutions into being, and therefore lose out from peace settlements. The chapters in this section inspect the gendered battlefield during war, during the search for peace, and in the postconflict environment. The limited extent to which peace secures women’s interests is another example of the convenient oblivion to which gender considerations are so often confined.