The invisible soldiers of economic, political, and cultural developments

What do you think about smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa? Or about the first Polish Legislative Sejm? Did you enjoy watching the ‚Hunger Games’? ‘But what do all these things have in common?’, you may ask. Simply put, each of these things has a feminine element behind it. Women may be the greatest hope for economic, political, and cultural progress. The latest international studies suggest that women take the lead in helping societies to adjust to the new challenges during economic and political imbalances. Yet, the ongoing imbalance’s flaws put women in a constant struggle to use their full potential.


Economic developments

Women worked tremendously hard regardless of time in history, the geopolitical situation, or the economic system; their efforts have not always been valued. Although some academics put women as contributors to the nation because of their role in the family as a thing of the past, such a definition of gender roles is still prevalent. Globally, about 75% of unpaid labour is done by women, reports McKinsey Global Institute. By unpaid labour, we understand work done for a household, family, dependents, and so on, which is stereotypically seen as a ‘natural’ female occupation. Women spend about three to six hours a day on it, while the average for men estimates somewhere between thirty minutes to two hours. And the differences prevail even in the upper-class households with the hired help and in families where both spouses have a job. In the latter, women ‘simply’ extend their ‘working hours’ over the household. The unpaid work of women is not calculated into the GDP as often considered insignificant to the economy.


As women play a pivotal role in ensuring long-term stability, progress, and finally, the nations’ economic growth, it is high time to ensure that women are on the agenda in global development. The concern especially relates - and aligns with the World Development Report 2012 - to women as farmers and food providers that contribute significantly to agricultural output (about 80% of Africa’s agricultural production is delivered by women), being the key to economic development in ‘third-world’ nations. That view is endorsed by Global Volunteers - rural women are the engine of growth and reduction of poverty. Lastly, women in the workforce form the economic foundation for current and future generations.


Political developments

According to European Commission Report, almost three-quarters of Europeans believe that the people’s living conditions in the nation would significantly improve when more women are given political influence. And that women have a more positive impact on preventing conflicts and wars. However, before we reached such a stance, women went through a long and tiring fight for their rights to take an active role in the nations’ future. The UN Women describes the moment women got voting rights as changing the ‚male status quo and empowering women,’ bringing forth economic growth and sustainable development.


According to Olga Wiechnik, the author of ‘Posełki. Osiem pierwszych kobiet,’ in Poland, it is often assumed, without further thought, that women received voting rights, while, in fact, they won them after an intensive fight. 103 years ago, Polish women gained those rights. 442 men and 8 women got into the newly created Legislative Sejm that was supposed to determine the way of functioning of Poland that just regained its independence. They were treated as an oddity. And, from the start, their participation in the deliberations was underestimated or even neglected. Although they descended from different backgrounds, they - often against their own parties - acted together in matters important to them - women’s rights. For instance, one of the postulates of these ‘first eight women’ was to reform the Civil Code, which greatly violated their rights, such as the right to work dependent on their husbands’ consent and no right to transfer citizenship or keep their surnames after marriage. Although it took years for the reform to be induced, it was a result of their hard work, which many tend to belittle up to today.


Globally, the countries with the biggest proportion of women in politics usually use proportional representation, according to the European Parliament report. Perhaps, for the parliaments to better represent women, they should seek thorough reforms of the voting system. However, Clare Castillejo, a Research Associate with ODI’s Politics and Governance Programme, stresses that the influence of women on governing is often restricted by exclusion from male-dominated support networks. Hence, representation enhancement still constitutes only half of the fight as having women in the government will not do much if they are prevented from effectively working within it.


Cultural developments

Similarly, UNESCO Institute for Statistics says that women are safeguarding culture throughout every society. Yet they still confront barriers that prevent them from an unreserved right to flourish in the cultural sphere. The findings show that 25% of women involved in the culture sector are self-employed simply due to better pay. Such an arrangement is also more flexible, which for women, often responsible for the unpaid work as well, constitutes a vital advantage, although in only a few sectors equals better pay (same for part-time jobs).


When it comes to decision-making, European Institute for Gender Equality 2013 study on women and the media shows that while women represent 40% of journalists in European newsrooms, they hold only 3% in decision-making posts. Striking statistics also show that women’s leadership and decision-making roles range up to 40%. And as such, only 28% of national or regional museums have a female director, while men hold 86% of director positions in national theatres. Hence, although the arts have a better record on gender parity than many other sectors, it is still imbalanced at the boardroom level.


Needless to say - representation matters. However, while the boardrooms act ‘behind the scenes,’ the products of culture such as films greatly contribute to constructing the meanings in the modern world. Yet Jocelyn Nichole Murphy observes that currently, women comprise less than a third of speaking parts in the top-grossing films, while about 82% have ten or more male characters in speaking roles. However, according to dr Martha Lauzen, several recent female-led films have significantly contributed to the actual status of women in film. The author also states that the recent popularity of strong heroines, such as Katniss Everdeen in the ‘Hunger Games’ series and Tris in the ‘Divergent’ series, may indicate that women in the film gain more attention. Or that only if the main character is female, women are shown with the same frequency as men. The issue is not limited to film, of course. The change, however, has been acknowledged and is - slowly - approaching in all the fields.


At first glance, farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, first female parliamentarians, or ‘Hunger Games’ seem of little significance while discussing the role of women in nation-making. There is also so much to cover in such a discussion. There is the expected role of women in caregiving and familialism, the job market and the gender pay gap, health and reproduction rights, and so on. UN WomenWatch Organization pinpoints that female caretakers in rural livelihoods support their societies in, among other things, nutrition security or generating income for their families. Construction of nationhood always mostly involves a specific nation of both, ‘manhood’ and ‘womanhood’ that can differ across locations and groups. So the concept should also be looked at from different perspectives - the global ‘North’ and ‘South,’ what role religion plays in the construction of the nation, what kind of religion. Not forgetting, of course, about not relying on purely heteronormative perspective. There is so much of it. However, what matters here is that, despite being overlooked over centuries, women’s contribution is immeasurable. Still, it should be our priority to discover these contributions and advance equality in the modern world to benefit everyone.