Monday, 26 January 2009

Gender and Finance

by Christina Laskaridis and Nuray Ergunes

The differences between genders have received little attention in the analysis of the capitalist system because women’s unequal state within society stems from patriarchal relations which are accepted as natural. Mainstream economics’ lack of insight into the interactions between non-economic and economic relations is a major reason for this ignorance.

As the expansion of financial relations changes that interaction, generally and specifically, through the intrusion into non-economic spheres, we seek to examine the gendered impact of these changes. Whereas, the gendered division of labour has been reasonably well explored, the gendered relations within finance are less so. How gender inequality is manifested during a period of financialisation will be explored through a series of blogs-to-come under the following issues:
a) With a detailed focus on microcredit, we will investigate how financial relations have penetrated the household sphere. Neoliberalism’s removal of social safety nets and privatisation of social welfare are the key factors here and are determined through class relations. It has allowed microcredit, sometimes labeled a ‘poverty management strategy’, to target women, adding a debt burden to women’s inequality.
b) The falsehood of microcredit as a solution to combat neoliberalism can be explored by examining certain characteristics of women’s work, and thus a gendered approach to the exploitative nature of financial inclusion can be developed.
c) Given that finance’s impact differs across genders, we will explore the extent to which financial products and conditions of disbursement and repayment can be differentiated between men and women.
d) Economic crisis tends to exacerbate existing inequalities: e.g. daughters are taken out of school, women take on extra work whilst still maintaining the household. We will explore the impact of the current crisis on women in developed and developing countries.;
e) The demands by civil society for a better financial architecture in response to the current crisis will remain incomplete without considering the above issues.

Underlying these areas of interest is an investigation of how the economic and non-economic spheres interact. This differentiation may be less distinct when considered in light of the increasing informality of women’s labour, especially in developing countries. Discussion of these recent changes of women’s position in the economy, is required to introduce more concretely the topics we will examine.

As a result of neo-liberal policies an increase in poverty and unemployment has been a worldwide phenomenon. In the name of fighting poverty, global management strategies have been developed, some of which have actually become socially threatening. One of these is microfinance, which has mostly targeted women based largely on the argument that it would strengthen and enhance their status. This argument relies on the peculiar characteristic of women’s labour, being determined through patriarchal relations. Characteristics such as being more reliable, self-sacrificing and easy to control are seen through examples of women’s lack of right to their income, expenditure of their income on needs of the household including children and through the efficacy of social pressure in the re-payment system of micro-credits.

In fact, microfinance leads to the commodification of women’s labour through finance. Increased labour market flexibility is one of the core patterns within financialised capitalism, the basic features of which are: increased informal labour, the removal of collective bargaining, increased income inequalities and the expansion of women’s labour. In other words, it means expansion of the gender-based labour market structure and the spread of production into small enterprises and households, especially in developing countries where the production is export-oriented and an increase in informal labour has meant the feminisation of labour. Throughout this process home-based work has had its social base widened. The reason for this is to resolve the conflict between women’s societal role (such as being wife, mother, daughter), and the role of labour needed by the capitalist system, which is flexible and cheap. Not only have these processes have been reinforced through microfinance but microfinance adds a burden of repayment into women’s life, with it’s associated anxiety and stress.

Although women’s labour has increased in the informal area, the unemployment ratio of women has increased in the formal employment area. The determination of formal employment by the structuring in the informal employment area has other dimensions. Within this context, women’s labour, which is determined by the patriarchal system, has formed a model of new employment and labour relations which is characterised by low wages, long working hours and unsecure working conditions. This form of labour is typical of the financialised capitalism era.

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