Last month, I attended the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program Fellowship training in Washington, DC. I was joined by several other youth from across the country who were interested in making the connection between empowering women and sustainable development. I applied for this fellowship as I have become increasingly interested in learning more about gender issues due to the Gender Economics class at American University that I am taking this semester. Through this class, I have been learning more about the importance of incorporating gender when developing macroeconomic policies. Many of our initial readings for the class discussed how much of the work that women do such as cooking, giving birth to and taking care of children, and other household tasks are not accounted for in the formal economy or in the country’s GDP. Yet, women’s role in the care or reproductive sector, while often unacknowledged in formal economic policies, is crucial to the continued development of a country. For without women to give birth and take care of children, there would no future generation and no future economy to talk about.
Despite women’s importance in the economy, the impact of economic policies on women are rarely given special consideration when country leaders develop economic policies. As a result, these policies often have a disproportional impact on women. For example, policies to increase trade between countries may seem beneficial for both of the countries’ economic growth. However, in countries where human labor is their main resource, this means that women are increasingly employed to work in the factories as they are considered a source of cheap labor. As the women may not have many other options, the factory bosses can pay them low wages and force them to work long hours without breaks. (This is greatly simplifying the situation as each country is different, but I am trying to be brief.) Additionally, the women often still have to take care of children and perform other household tasks, placing a huge strain on their welfare.