Does Economic Progress Benefit Men and Women Equally?

by guest-writer Gohar Shahnazaryan

photos from marches in various cities on March 8, 2017

One of the main arguments of neoliberalism is that an increase of women’s economic participation will inevitably lead to their empowerment, including political. But feminist critique of liberalism and economic modernization has its own perspective on the issue.

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March in Yerevan March 8, 2017 © Sofia Manukyan

The concept of modernization is based on Emil Durkheim’s view according to which the societies could be divided into two parts; the traditional and the modern ones[1]. Therefore modernization is defined as transition from traditional to a modern society. In fact modernization theory emphasizes the process of increasing social integration and its economic, social, and cultural dimensions. The economic ramification encompasses the increasing movement of people, goods and information among formerly disjoint subpopulations, which is typically accompanied by increasing efficiency, increasing firm size, and economic growth[2].

Thus, the specifics of traditional economic life is that there is a high level of localized connectivity and the need of searching for high-yield investment opportunities never emerges. In contrast the modern economic life differs with its long-distance links which ease the search for high-investment opportunities. The advantage of traditional economic life is that there is a high degree of neighborhood, which in its way provides control and monitoring of the situation, thus preventing misbehavior by entrepreneurs and provides more guarantee to investors for a fair return on their investments.

Contrary to traditional economic life, the modern one doesn’t provide the effect of control and monitoring by the neighbors, as here the level of connectivity and neighboring is very low. Here the formal institutions like government, state agencies are responsible for provision of competitive conditions, cooperative behavior and mutual trust for the entrepreneurs. Anyways, the advantage of modern economic life is that it leads to a higher concentration of firms of high productivity, increasing average firm size, and the gradual extinction of small low-productivity firms, whereas in traditional economic life the small firms prevail.[3]

The other point is that the economic modernity can lead to increasing the level of involvement of women in out-of-work activities not associated with everyday responsibilities, such as child-rearing, domestic work. Some scholars assume that with the increased economic modernity more social services appear to cover the women’s out-of-work responsibilities[4]. Thus, the women get the chance of spending free time on self-development, capacity building and leisure.

Intersectionality of modernization

But how does modernization affect women? This question became widely discussed starting from 1970s, but until now there are a lot of controversies around it.

The gender perspective of the economic modernization was firstly emphasized in the 1970s by Esther Boserup[5]. This was done within a growing awareness and consensus that economic development and modernity has to be viewed through a multidimensional perspective, by introducing other variables such as race, ethnicity and gender into the debate. Esther Boserup has argued that earlier researches had underestimated the role of women in production thus causing little advantage from modernization for them. As mentioned earlier women were excluded from the advantages modernization brought the other half of the population due to lack of access to resources, lack of education and confinement within families.

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March in Istanbul March 8, 2017 ©Mohamed Mekhamer

It should be mentioned that a critique of economic modernization firstly was emerged within feminist theory. Feminist critics argue that modernity is a patriarchal construction, set by men, for men. Modernity is constructed of asymmetric power relations and hierarchical structures based on gender (Beneria, 1995). This is called the “gendered aspect of modernity”, meaning that men and women perceive and are affected by modernity differently (Yoko, Akio and Yumiko, 2003).

According to feminists, opportunities created by modernity are limited to the patriarchal world. The debate includes the dichotomies of traditional, modern, inner/outer, private/public, where women are seen as bearers and preservers of tradition. Modernity works in two ways, it could lead to either liberation or constraints, the latter in the sense that it creates clashes between the old and the new roles women obtain.

Economic modernization vs cultural modernization

From feminist perspective economic modernity should be discussed only in the context of cultural modernity in order to understand why very often economic modernity doesn’t bring to all the desired changes in the respective society.

The concept of cultural modernity basically emphasizes the link between the development of liberal and emancipative values and women’s advancement in the society[6]. In particular, Inglehart and Norris argue that in fact it is cultural modernity that brings positive changes in the women’s political participation[7].  One of the main indicators of cultural modernity in the context of gender equality is becoming women’s self-expression and participation in civic actions, which is becoming a culturally motivated choice rather than an economic decision.[8]

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March in Delhi March 8, 2017 @FeminismInIndia

For example in Armenia despite some level of economic empowerment of women during the past years, cultural attitudes towards women’s employment in Armenian society still clearly reflect patriarchal values from one side and survival values from the other.

Majority of the population in Armenia prefers to follow the customs and traditions (World Value Surve, 2010-2014).

“Tradition is important to this person; to follow the customs handed down by one’s religion or family”

Number of cases %/Total
Very much like me 386 35.1%
Like me 425 38.6%
Somewhat like me 148 13.4%
A little like me 64 5.8%
Not like me 57 5.2%
Not at all like me 18 1.6%
Don´t know 1 0.1%
(N) (1,100) 100%
Mean 2.12
N 1,099

Survival values are reflected both on the individual and societal levels. Thus, half of the population sees a main priority in the economic growth, and more 30% of Armenians see the main aim of the country for the next ten years in the development of strong defense forces[9]. Around 50% of Armenians agree that the most important is to maintain order in the nation[10]. Living in secure surroundings is one of the main priorities for 75% of Armenians, and adventure and taking risks are important only for 26%. A vast majority (88%) think that they should be very careful and don’t trust people around them.

In addition, survival values are still very dominant in the Armenian society and they seem to be the major obstacle for women’s economic empowerment.

Women are forced to stay at home to take care for children not only because the salaries do not compensate the cost of childcare, but also because the majority of population agrees that when jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women (65% of and 48% of women agreed with that statement)[11].

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March in Tokyo March 8, 2017 @WomensMarchTYO

At the same time, there is an obvious gender gap in the attitudes toward women’s economic empowerment (leaning towards favoring women), because 42% of men and only 25% of women disagree or strongly disagree with this statement. Another examples of survival value that might hinder women’s economic empowerment is that 60% of men and 49% of women think that when women works for pay the children suffer, more 47% of men and 31% of women agree with the statement that if a woman earns more money than her husband, it’s almost certain to cause problems, and more than 50% of population think that being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay[12].

Data of survey conducted by YSU Center for Gender and Leadership Studies showed that twice as many men agreed with the statement “a career can’t be on the first place for a woman, a family should always be a priority” than did women (69.4% and 37.6% accordingly).

As we can see from the data presented above survival values are obviously more dominant among men than women, and since men obtain all the power in the society, we can’t expect easy and quick changes in the nearest future. The following data also goes to support this conclusion: almost twice more young Armenian women than men (76.6% of YSU female students vs. 33.5% of male students) strongly agree that the Armenian government should do more to promote gender equality in the country. Also more women than men agree that young women can play significant role in the social, economic and political life of the country (49.8% of female students vs. 27.7 % of male students).

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March in Beirut March 8, 2017 ©Kareem Chehayeb

Among other “cultural obstacles” there is also a stereotypical perception of a good leader. 63% of population agree that men make better political leaders than women do, and 60% agree that on the whole men make better business executives than women do.

Cultural attitudes and stereotypes toward women’s social role hold women back from acquiring well-paid and prestigious positions in the society. According to the data on job vacancies provided by Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in Yerevan the most frequently announced positions are those not requiring higher education and where vocational education is needed (workers, sellers, hairdressers, cleaners, bakers, cooks, secretary, etc.).

On the countryside job vacancies are not limited to the positions requiring only vocational and lower educational level, but either the salaries are not satisfactory, or the location is not convenient for women to work at (far from home)[13]. This is another reason why women with higher education happen to be unemployed more than men do. The women can’t leave their families for a long period and in most cases prefer either not working or working at the positions not related to their education. This statistical data corresponds with the results of focus group discussions within the research conducted by Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) in 2013.

According to it, male and female unemployed focus group participants were mentioning they feel that it is not so much the skills they are lacking, but an absence of job places from one side, and a lack of useful social connections[14]. In fact the importance of social networks also has a crucial role in keeping a job, as well as influencing the decision of an unemployed person about his/her strategy of conducting a job search[15].

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March for right to safe and legal abortion in Limerick, Ireland March 8 , 2017 ©YvieLFN

Education is still considered as a part of dowry of a girl. For example, the vast majority of YSU students think that a woman should have a good education (93% of men and 96% of women), but at the same time the number of those who said it is important, or very important, for a woman to have a successful career is substantially less, especially in case of men (46% of men and 62% of women). Interestingly, those who think that men should have more power in the society also agree that a career can’t come first for a woman.

So, when next time we hear an argument that economic empowerment of women is the only solution to ensure gender equality, we should carefully examine the context in which economic empowerment takes/will take place and do not underestimate the value of cultural factors.

P.S. from editors of the blog: On March 7 2017, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), together with the representatives of the European Union and the Swedish Government, were presenting a project funded by their respective institutions and titled “Business woman” in Yerevan, Armenia. Parallel to this EBRD is financing a mining project in Armenia – Amulsar gold mine, the operating company of which stated in its risk assessment that dominantly male workforce influx to the communities near the mine can especially negatively affect the local female population, resulting in new or widening commercial sex networks and prostitution and problems related to it.

The members of the Armenian Environmental Front therefore intervened in the above mentioned event to expose the hypocritical attitude of the bank towards social issues in general and women’s issues in particular. Below a video in Armenian of the protest action.

Note: Gohar Shahnazaryan (PhD in Sociology) is the Director of Yerevan State University Center for Gender Studies and Associate Professor at YSU Department of Applied Sociology, Co-founder of Women’s Resource Center NGO. Her research interests include Gender Issues in Armenian Society, Social Identity and Social Cognitions, Social-psychological Transformations.

[1] Marie Nilsson, The Paradox of Modernity A Study of Girl Discrimination In Urban Punjab, India, Lund University, 2004, p. 14
[2] I.Lindner,  H. Strulik, From Tradition to Modernity: Economic Growth in a Small World, 2011, p. 1-3
[3] I.Lindner,  H. Strulik, From Tradition to Modernity: Economic Growth in a Small World, 2011, p. 1-3
[4] Marie Nilsson, The Paradox of Modernity A Study of Girl Discrimination In Urban Punjab, India, Lund University, 2004, p. 15
[5] Marie Nilsson, The Paradox of Modernity A Study of Girl Discrimination In Urban Punjab, India, Lund University, 2004, p. 15
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] World, Value Survey Data, 2010-2014
[10] World Value Survey Data, 2010-2014
[11] World Values Survey Data, 2010-2014
[12] Ibid
[13] Republic of Armenia, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, http://employment.am/am/vacancy.html
[14] Assessment of Women in the Labor Market in Armenia, CRRC, World Bank, Armenia, 2014.
[15] Assessment of Women in the Labor Market in Armenia, CRRC, World Bank, Armenia, 2014.
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One comment

  1. Ignorance and deliberate silence about women protesting for their rights is one of the many hurdles. In Germany, for instance, media reporting on women’s marches in German cities was absent. Most newspaper made short reports on international marches, some gave historic accounts about the meaning of International Women’s Day, some quoted politician’s speeches. But none covered the number of initiatives and marches taking place on 8 March 2017. I could find one (!) article criticising this silence > http://www.taz.de/!5387756/
    By Theresa

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