1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Comments on the UNRISD Report: Gender Equality, Striving for Justice in an Unequal World

17 May 2005

  • Author(s): Rolph Van Der Hoeven

This is a very noteworthy publication as it combines, without being dogmatic, rigorous economic, social and political analysis, leading to clear and understandable policy advice. The first section of the report places the achievements of feminisation in the context of globalization and economic liberalization. It points, as other reports have done, to the various downsides of globalization, resulting in greater insecurity and more informal jobs for large number of families in the world. Under such circumstance women are often seriously affected as demand for work, income and social protection for the family, and children in particular, often increase simultaneously, thereby stretching many women’s capacities to their ultimate limits. Yet the report does not fall in the trap of painting a pure bleak picture, as various other reports do. It documents and acknowledges that the economic policy agenda has also provided new opportunities to some social groups, including low income women. Jobs in export sectors and high value added agriculture have given groups of women, no matter how low income or difficult working conditions, discretionary income, new kinships etc, not necessarily ending women’s subordination but contributing to provide women with instruments to ‘whittle away at the pillars of patriarchy’.

A second important line of the report is that it questions the notion of embedding liberalism. Basically arguing that the social stress and inequalities that are unleashed are more extensive than remedies of social safety nets etc. suggested, especially as the fiscal envelope for some of these remedies has been reduced in the wake of various rounds of globalization and structural adjustments packages. It calls therefore to a rethinking of the role of the state in providing a good set of social policies, creating opportunities for all and embedding this in a more balanced development of markets. (These suggestions resonate well some of the findings of the report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization).

Based on such balanced analysis the policy conclusions of the report are also original and nevertheless balanced. It is refreshing to read that, unlike in many of the reports of the UN and Breton Woods system, the report does not pretend to give a ‘one size fits all’ solution. It points to some sensible macroeconomic policy dictums, which populist regimes often violated in the past, but argues that adhering to such dictums still provides more room for manoeuvring than most countries and societies have applied. The rich list of issues is too long to repeat but the discussions on expenditure policies, strengthening individuals rights, voice to the majority of people and policies for decent work are but a few to mention, each to be applied in the context of the specific economic, social and cultural setting of each country. Important is also to notice that the mere increase of the percentage of women engaged in politics is not always a sufficient condition for the advancement of the masses of women.

In short this report reflects very much the context under which UNRISD operates, since it was created in 1963 under the first chairmanship of the Dutch Nobel Laureate Prof. Jan Tinbergen.

It combines objective and rigorous anlysis in an open and accessible way. Its strength is to do this by combining economic, social and political analysis, which often cuts across “the silo type of analysis” by the many parts of the UN and Breton Wood’s agencies. It involves many scholars and activists of the developing countries, which brings sometimes new angles to the discussions. It makes its multidisciplinary analysis known in the UN system as well as in academic circles in developed and developing countries, again circles which not always interact. It provides therefore a unique function in the UN system to stress the need for combined social, economic and political analysis and action.

Rolph Van Der Hoeven,
World Commission Social Dimension of Globalization, ILO

With permission from the author.



This article reflects the views of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent those of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.