Report: What Kind of Growth? Economies that Work for Women in Post-War Settings

In the aftermath of war, securing adequate food, shelter and healthcare, decent work and sufficient income are immense challenges. For women, these challenges are particularly intense, due to pre-existing inequalities, women’s assigned roles as carers, and particular health needs. Typically, post-war countries are encouraged to resuscitate markets and develop the private sector in order to encourage economic growth (measured by GDP). Yet this approach, informed by neoclassical economics, only exacerbates the problems, undermining the provision of basic services and failing to provide decent livelihoods, especially for women. 
On July 17 & 18, 2017, Carol Cohn, Director of the Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, and Claire Duncanson, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, convened a workshop entitled, “What Kind of Growth? Economies that Work for Women in Post-War Settings.” The aims were to:
  • delineate the gendered economic challenges that post-war contexts generate;
  • outline the gendered impacts of current approaches to post-war reconstruction;
  • consider the extent to which feminist alternatives to neoclassical economic models offer the potential for generating solutions. 
The workshop is part of a larger project to create a “Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace.” The Feminist Roadmap project starts from the perception that no matter how gender-equitable and progressive a peace agreement might be, there are many predictable post-war international political-economic processes and dynamics that can essentially cement or deepen the structural inequalities, marginalization, exclusion, and lack of prospects that pre-existed and contributed to the armed conflict – or can even create new ones. Therefore, their effects must be carefully analyzed, and peacemaking and peacebuilding processes must, with foresight, take these into account if the end goal is gender-equitable, sustainable peace. 
This workshop focused on the specific contribution that feminist economics might bring to the analysis – both in diagnosing the problems of currently dominant models of post-war economic development and in generating alternatives. It thus brought together for two days of intense dialogue and knowledge sharing a range of feminist researchers whose paths otherwise rarely cross: feminist political economists who focus on alternatives to neoclassical economic models of growth and feminist researchers who are concerned with the challenges of building gender-equitable, sustainable peace. 
This enabled the workshop to go beyond outlining problems, and begin much-needed discussions on alternative approaches that could actually advance the twin tasks of consolidating peace and tackling inequalities. Drawing on three broad feminist economics approaches – Human Rights; Care and Social Reproduction; and Sustainability – participants discussed a range of strategies and solutions, which International Financial Institutions and post-war governments could adopt, from moving beyond GDP as a measure of economic success, prioritising full-employment, developing an infrastructure of care, to supporting co-operatives and gender-budgeting initiatives. 
The rich conversations we had about rethinking how economies can work for women in post-war settings were generative of many avenues for further exploration:
  • Are Human Rights approaches sufficiently transformative of current economic models? Does Human Rights Law, particularly on Economic and Social Rights, offer a useful tool in obligating donor states and IFIs to adopt a different approach? Could IFIs be persuaded to adopt a Human Rights approach to economic policies in their dealings with post-war countries? 
  • Could resourcing an infrastructure for caring work, broadly defined, provide solutions for the dearth of decent jobs and the increased level of demand for care the workshop identified in post-war contexts? How could such an infrastructure of care be funded? 
  • What does putting sustainability at the heart of economic models mean for post-war countries? Does it demand limits to growth, new measures of growth, global redistribution of wealth, or all three? What does it mean for extractive industries, physical infrastructure projects, and agriculture?
There is an evident need for more debate of these issues, reaching out to include more feminist economists and women from and working on economic development and/or gendered insecurities in conflict-affected areas. The workshop demonstrated, however, the potential of bringing different groups of scholars together to generate innovative ways forward. 
“This small exploratory workshop, valuable in and of itself, has generated questions and ideas which will be crucial to carry forward and deepen in the larger thematic knowledge-building workshops of the Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace.  Feminist approaches to infrastructure reconstruction, natural resource policy, large-scale land acquisition, extractive industries, public finance, livelihoods and climate change disruption – all of these must be refracted through the lens of issues raised in this workshop. And all of them offer opportunities to further develop the feminist economic imaginings we have explored together here.”
Read the Workshop Report here.
Read the Workshop Concept Note here.

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