Economic Limitations to Girl Power

I’m really interested in the field of economics, and lately I was thinking about a paper I wrote for my class, “Financial Crisis and the Future of Democracy.” My paper was about the impacts that the recent global financial crisis had on women’s lives. Conversations regarding the crisis often focus on the stabilization of the economy through our financial system, in which men play a great role. In all the talks about bailing out banks, balancing budgets, and avoiding fiscal cliffs, we miss the impact that these decisions have on women.

For example, one of the most significant outcomes of the global economic crisis has been the change in trade patterns as the markets for particular commodities shrank, leading to job losses in countries that supplied good for those markets. Women make up 60-80% of export manufacturing jobs, meaning they are affected by these trade patterns. These impacts are especially high in places like eastern and southern Africa, as well as several places in Asia. This is part of the reason as to why a lot of women in these countries resort to prostitution as a means of survival.

But rather than remedy this discrimination, government responses are oftentimes detrimental to women. Stimulus packages meant to create jobs often fund infrastructure projects that create jobs for men rather than women. We have to create stimulus packages that include support for maintaining or expanding social infrastructure, especially health, care services, and education because these can help reduce women’s unpaid work burden. Having a basic gender-aware measures can promote economic recovery more effectively and also foster gender equality in the long term.

I know this is starting to sound like a long economics paper, but bear with me. During a financial crisis, women are more likely to be taken out of school to work. Women already have lower wages than men, so taking them out of school reduces the chance for that gap to be narrowed. Women also also often put in the position of caretakers, and limiting their economic opportunities during crises has a negative impact on the elderly, children, and sick family members. In other words, a greater investment in women will actually help families meet the basic needs of all individuals in the household.

Financial crises limit the opportunities for women and girls. When we think about girl power, I think we have to question what kinds of power we are talking about. Given our capitalist driven world, I think it’s fair to say that for “girl power” to exist, girls need to have some form of economic power. Yes, the kick-ass, bow and arrow wielding badasses in popular culture show refreshing representations of girls with power, but is that power strictly physical? That power seems to be of good use only when women come face-to-face with an abusive husband, CIA Agent, or some alien force. I would think that it is also important for women to have some form of economic bargaining power, not just physical or emotional strength.

But this notion of economic power only exists because we live within a particular ideology. What would power outside of this realm look like? We could, of course, tear down this whole capitalist system and give a new meaning to the term “power” so that it could exist outside of violence or economics. Is that impossible? I guess we won’t know until we try.

Most of the information I got for this paper was taken from a report from the United Nations, which can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “Economic Limitations to Girl Power

  1. This is such an interesting perspective that we have not spoken about much in class, so thank you for writing this blog post. The disproportional affect of job loss on women intuitively makes sense because historically men have been the wage earners and women the caretakers. Therefore women’s employment could appear less essential than men’s. Men’s employment is given priority because of the historically gendered notion of men as the wage earners, but what about single mothers? Is their employment status not just as crucial for their families’ well being? Also if women’s employment is seen as a non-essential luxury afforded in times of economic prosperity but redacted in times of economic hardship what does this do to women’s sense of self worth? I really like the idea of empowering women through employment because I think it is an important strategy in an increasingly globalized and capitalistic system.

  2. Well, the class is called “Girl Power: Reading Popular Culture” so to discuss economics would take it out of the realm of the class structure. I think Gender Studies is such a wide subject that it is important to focus, for depth purposes.

    This is not to say that you don’t raise an important issue. As a woman who was born and brought up in Eastern Africa, I feel the need to comment on this post. One, I think popular culture is closely linked with economic development. Like in that movie we watched, “Real Women Have Curves”…actually, in most of what we have watched, there can be links drawn between the economic power of women in a society and the stories portrayed on the screen.

    It limits because we know it is not documentary, but then popular culture is so closely linked with representations in society that you cannot divorce it. What does it mean for a young girl to grow up watching a movie like Foxy Brown? I think that that girl knows that women can kick ass, and she will not allow to be dropped out of school because she will have goals she is working towards. (A substantial number of countries have free education, and many girls who are determined-this comes from an awareness of agency, many times- will refuse to stay home and find a way to do their chores and still go to school.)

    Jobs are important, no doubt. But that might be sorted if there is an awareness of genderisation in any society, even those in Eastern and Southern Africa.

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