Economies That Work for Women Post-War
This blog is based on a forthcoming paper by Carol Cohn (Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights) and Claire Duncanson (University of Edinburgh). It originally appeared on Monash GPS blog here.
Building lasting peace and security in countries coming out of war is challenging. Many recent publications point to how badly the international community has fared in its attempts, and there has been much recent soul-searching within the UN system itself as to how to improve its record.
Economic recovery, reconstruction and development are critical, if often neglected, elements of attempting to create peace and security post-war. Regarding this more specific area, too, the UN and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) who are the key actors in this sphere, have been the subject of several critiques.
One strand of critique focuses on relatively technical issues, such as sequencing and timing, flexibility and coordination. The international community fails, in this account, because it insists on implementing “development as usual” policies too early. Rather, it should accept that post-war states need to do several things which are not optimal in terms of conventional conceptions of economic growth – primarily providing decent jobs and basic services for ex-combatants, as well as other groups impacted by war, so as to give them a stake in the peace. In the immediate aftermath of war, “the peace objective should always prevail over the economic”. The IFI’s economic prescriptions are essentially sound; what is required is tweaks in how and, crucially, when they are applied.
A second set of criticisms focus more on the way that IFIs do not sufficiently recognise how their policies exacerbate the inequalities and violence of the “clandestine economies of war”. In this critique, neoliberal economic policies might be sound in general but not in post-war contexts because the profits created are subject to elite capture and corruption. The recommended policy response is “good governance”: creating the institutions and regulatory framework that can facilitate inclusion in economic growth.
The IFIs have been receptive to these two lines of critique and evidence of adoption of these recommended solutions, at least on paper, is clear.
A third set of scholars make a more fundamental critique. The neoliberal policies themselves, and not just their propensity to elite capture in post-war contexts, are the problem.
Feminist colleagues working in this area and I agree with the scholars in this third strand. Although good governance (and better sequencing, timing and coordination) would be nice, they, alone, are not going to bring about the transformations required for gender-just sustainable peace.
What the third strand of scholars tend not see or highlight, however, is the gendered nature of neoliberal capitalism. As such, they overlook some of its harms and drivers, and how they play out in conflict-affected areas. They also miss the solutions that feminists offer.
To take one example, typically the World Bank’s reconstruction programme will be dominated by physical infrastructure, which usually comprises at least 60 per cent of the programme. Physical infrastructure is of course important for peacebuilding, but one might question the emphasis on physical infrastructure over social infrastructure (spending on health, education, childcare and so on), given the level of need for these services in post-war contexts. Moreover, the physical infrastructure projects tend to be designed primarily with men and markets in mind, and privilege superhighways, for example, from mines to ports over rural roads enabling people to get safely from home to healthcare. Investment in infrastructure is increasingly funded through public-private partnerships (PPPs). Evaluations of such PPPs focus on profitability, rather than on whether infrastructure serves the needs of people, including the specific needs of women. Rather than a basic good for all, infrastructure is conceptualised as a source of potential profit for foreign-owned commercial interests.
Central to the IFI’s approach, it is clear, are some neoclassical economic assumptions. A central one is the idea that the economy is for solving the problems of how to distribute things efficiently, and the beauty of market-provided solutions, according to mainstream economics, is that they are efficient. This approach is problematic in several ways. First, it elevates efficiency to the status of primary goal. Second, it privileges the monetised aspects of the economy, while ignoring the sphere of “social reproduction” or “unpaid work”, which includes both subsistence production (particularly significant in much of the Global South) and unpaid care (for family, friends and neighbours) that keep the social fabric together. Third, it is an approach which focuses on meeting human wants, without asking “how much is enough?” This is clearly problematic given finite resources on an increasingly degraded and dangerous planet.
Feminist economists (in company with other heterodox economists) see the purpose of the economy differently: human well-being, not economic growth, is the central measure of economic success. There are many different feminist approaches to the economy, but there are at least three which challenge the neoclassical model, and provide new ways of thinking about post-war economic reconstruction: the human rights approach, the centring care and social reproduction approach, and ecological and sustainability approaches.
Adopting a human rights approach could transform the way that IFIs respond to post-war countries. It would arguably compel them and post-war states to put employment creation (decent jobs, not just any jobs, food security, housing and land rights, for example, at the heart of their approach to economic reconstruction. Approaches that seek to make care visible and valuable also have the potential to be transformative. If IFIs and post-war states invested in social infrastructure, it would not only help meet the huge demand for health care and education, but create jobs on a massive scale, considerably more than physical infrastructure does. As such, an economy based around social infrastructure starts to become self-financing, as the tax base widens and the productivity of the labour force increases. The third approach, making sustainability a goal of the economy would move us away from the model of extraction and exportation of natural resources. These strategies, that degrade and destroy the natural environment and undermine women’s security, are all too dominant in post-war contexts.
Nonetheless, challenges and questions remain. What does putting sustainability at the heart of economic models mean for post-war countries? How can the IFIs be persuaded of the need for alternative models? How can post-war states, often weak and corrupted, be the vehicles for transformation envisaged in many feminist economist accounts? These questions are part of an important research agenda, creating a Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace, led by the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights, and involving a team of international interdisciplinary researchers. For more information see http://genderandsecurity.org/feminist-roadmap-sustainable-peace.