· Vatican City ·

Economy is woman

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by ALESSANDRA SMERILLI*

22 February 2020

From March 26 to 28, more than two thousand young economists and entrepreneurs will meet in Assisi at the invitation of Pope Francis:“That is why I would like to meet you in Assisi: so that we can promote together, through a common ‘covenant’, a process of global change…a ‘covenant’ to change today’s economy and to give a soul to the economy of tomorrow”. In his letter the Pope addresses young people, because he already considers them a prophecy of an economy which is attentive to the person and the environment. He knows all too well that they “can hear in your [their] hearts the ever more anguished plea of the earth and its poor, who cry out for help and for responsibility, for people who will respond and not turn away”.

The Assisi event is entitled “Economy of Francesco”.  Pope Francis’ calls for an economy which does not create waste; Francis of Assisi who in his embrace of the leper marries poverty, and from whose tradition were established the first banks to assist the poor, known as pawnshops. However, Francis is also the name of every young person, male or female, who will participate in the event, because each one of them will commit to a pact to change themselves and the economy.

The event will provide opportunities to listen, for paths of knowledge and reflection in Francis’ places, but also many moments of confrontation and dialogue in what have been called “thematic villages”. These villages include:  finance and humanity, agriculture and justice, work and care, profit and vocation, management and gift, life and lifestyles, energy and poverty, and various others.

One of the villages is entitled: “Economy is woman”. It was thought for a long time whether to include in the event a thematic village dedicated to women, precisely because it is transversal to the various topics, but in the end it was set as a sign, and should take place in the monastery of the Poor Clares of Assisi. Economics is woman because its root, oikos-nomos, calls us to the management of the house, where with the word “home” we can mean the home walls, but also our common home. But it is woman, also because without a qualified female contribution there is no future for the economy.

Modern economic science, in fact, has been built entirely on a masculine model. It could not be otherwise in that time in which it emerged as an autonomous science, that is, at the end of the 1700s. We have a founding father, Adam Smith, but not a founding mother. And it is also difficult to trace the first female economists, since several women used male pseudonyms to publish their research.

In 1869 the economist John Stuart Mill published a book entitled “The Subjection of Women” and this is what he wrote on this: “The principle governing the current social relations between the two sexes - the subordination of the one to the other sanctioned by law - is an incorrect principle in itself which, having become one of the main obstacles to human progress, should be replaced by a principle of absolute equality”. Much has changed since then, and, at least as a matter of principle, today anyone would hardly dare to question the substantial equal dignity of men and women. But at the time of the book, and for many years afterwards, women were denied many rights, including access to studies. Mill’s book was inspired by his wife Harriet and written together with her, as Mill himself states in his autobiography, but the only official author is him. We could continue, and we would discover that the number of women working in economic science and academia is still far inferior to their male counterparts.

You may wonder why it is so important that there are women thinking about the economy. And we wonder if it makes sense to talk about a female role in the social and economic dimension, and therefore if there is a specific female role in this sphere.

To answer this question, we must avoid falling into two traps. The first is that of those who claim that equal dignity equals perfect equality, so there is no point in talking about a role for women, because it is not distinct from the role of men. But this way of thinking has gradually led to the assumption of the masculine as a prototype to which everything is related. The economist Victoria Bateman writes in “The Guardian” newspaper: “The questions economists seek to answer, the tools they use to help find the answers, the standard assumptions they make along the way, and the things they choose to measure all reflect a traditional and stereotypical male way of looking at the world”.

On the other side (the second trap) there are those who exasperate the specificity of women, making them even more a source of discrimination. In Assisi, therefore, there are those who may  wonder if some female talents are generative abilities, or simply “soft-skills”. We will wonder if there are different impacts of the ecological crisis on women, compared to men. However, we will also reflect on how to overcome certain stereotypes. A young woman who will participate in the event states: “In our context, women believe that their task is linked to ‘doing’ and not ‘thinking’. And if they work outside the home, all the care work inside the home is only up to them. How can we change this way of considering a woman’s self-perception?”.

Today, the way of viewing home and our common home is still very masculine. Man is orientated towards the workplace, to the material and institutional aspects. While all this is very important, if it becomes an absolute way of viewing the situation it can distort reality. Woman looks more at relationships, at weaving nets, at what has to be done with care.

This way of viewing the situation in itself is not enough, and we miss this in big companies, at a political level, in institutions in general. We need to start, or continue to look at this home with a woman’s gaze. Above all, we need to start looking at it together, men and women. To imagine our future together, and for this young people will be able to amaze us. They, the God’s now for us, will help us to broaden our horizons.

 

*Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), Professor of Political Economy at the Pontifical Faculty “Auxilium” in Rome.