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Free markets and Women’s Empowerment

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There are those who contend that feminism is incompatible with capitalism. But capitalist states have achieved many ‘feminist’ goals.


There exists a tangible relationship between economic progress and women’s empowerment  – almost all of the world’s developed nations treat women fairly and more equitably than developing or underdeveloped countries.

It might be a bit of irony then, that many of the leading icons of the feminist movement today are self professed socialists and marxists. It is clear to any observer of the feminist movement that it has become increasingly antagonistic to Capitalism and the free market. Feminism to them, means the opposition to the capitalistic system itself. They argue that the capitalistic system does not ‘care’ for women. It should be pointed out at this instance that women in the erstwhile Soviet Union did not achieve the material standard of living, status or power that women in the Unites States enjoy.[1]

They are in a way, right. Capitalism shows benefits and favors no group; it has no inherent bias. The market determines your worth, not the state or your community. Your success or your failure lies on your shoulders. The system gives women a ‘fair shot’, and equal opportunity as men to ‘make it’. And women have made it in free market economies. Those countries that follow a free market system are by far better for women. Take a look at the countries adjudged the best for women under the 2015 Gender Development Index – all of them are free market economies. That is not a coincidence.

Women are able to make their own choices in life when they have financial independence  – in other words, the metaphorical shackles of ‘Patriarchy’ are done away with if she has the ability to dictate her own terms in life. The denial of women’s agency does not happen when she herself is making her choices. Those countries which provide equality of opportunity to women are prosperous themselves, and rank high on the gender development index.

The Indian Context

In India too, the liberalization of economy and the introduction of a limited free market system has served as a greater tool of the ’emancipation’ of women than no other. The Economic Survey -2018, for example shows that India has improved on 14 out of 17 parameters that attempt to measure women’s agency, attitude and outcome between 2005 and 2015. [2] There are a variety of studies by the IMF, World Bank and other organizations that all drive home the point that economic development inevitably leads to gender equality. A World Bank Study in 1999, for example concluded that economic growth is directly related to gender equality. [3]

As the country hurdles towards economic progress, the status of women in the country is sure to improve. The current low feamale participation in the labour force is not a reason to worry – this can be explained by the Feminization -‘U’- Hypothesis. According to this Hypothesis, the female participation in the labour force first declines then rises as the women re-enter the market.

Conclusion

Women have edged closer to equality [4] more than ever in a free market system. No communist nor socialist state has come close to the Gender Equity that exists in capitalist states. The free market system provides a fair and equitable system where the abilities of the individual – not the state or the community – determines their worth.

If women aspire for power, success and above all, equity – they should be proponents of economic liberty. It lies at the fundamental root of their progress. The earliest feminists were laissez-faire liberals, who knew the connection between women’s progress and freedom.

Economic Liberty holds the key for women’s progress.

Endnotes

[1] “Women’s Role in the Soviet Union: Ideology and reality” by Alice Schuster, The Russian Review, Volume 30 (3) p. 260 – 267.

[2] Table 2, Chapter 7, Economic Survey 2017, Titled ‘  Responsiveness of Gender Dimensions to Wealth— India and other Countries’, Page 109 & 7.11

[3] “Gender Inequality, Income and Growth: Are good times good for women?”, David Dollar and Roberta Gatti, World Bank, 1999. Accessible at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTGENDER/Resources/wp1.pdf.

[4] Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Note: I have used the terms ‘economic liberty’, ‘free market’ and ‘capitalism’ interchangeably.

This article is a third in a series of articles on Women’s issues. I have already written on my general view of feminism and regarding the failure and undesirability of state intervention. This article attempts to elucidate relationship between free markets and women’s empowerment. 

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