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. Yet this approach fails to provide decent livelihoods, especially for women.
The new report “What Kind of Growth? Economies that Work for Women in Post-War Settings” is based on a July 2017 gathering of feminist security scholars and feminist political economists, convened by Carol Cohn, director of the Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights at UMass Boston, and Claire Duncanson, senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Edinburgh.
A lack of post-war employment opportunities affects both men and women, but in different ways. For men, the stress of lack of income may be compounded by a shaken sense of masculinity. Women paid to take on the work of men who were fighting are often pushed out of work, sometimes violently, at war’s end, when demobilized male soldiers return. Women may be drawn into prostitution and sexual slavery, or find themselves scavenging in toxic dumps, all the while caring for family members and making sure there’s a meal on the table. Marriages and funerals add to expenses, as does sending children to school, because of hidden fees.
During the July workshop, Maliha Safri, an associate professor in the Economics Department at Drew University, demonstrated how worker cooperatives in New York, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts hire more workers than conventional capitalist firms, provide more stable employment, and can pay significantly higher wages, all things that benefit women and communities.
“I really do think that post-conflict environments have the chance to offer a different trajectory altogether if they only recognize the value of building networks and organizations, worker unions, producer cooperatives, and organize the economy in a radically different way,” said Smita Ramnarain, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Rhode Island.
The workshop participants also discussed the potential of cash transfers – direct transfers of money, usually from the government, to the people who need it. Although providing universal basic income and/or cash transfers is increasingly an anti-poverty strategy, this is less likely to be recommended in post-war contexts when the focus is transitioning to a marketized economy.
The workshop was 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 were there before and even contributed to the armed conflict. Therefore, their effects must be carefully analyzed. If the end goal is gender-equitable, sustainable peace, peacemaking and peacebuilding processes must take all this into account.
“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,” Cohn said.
About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.