Women’s Economic Empowerment Sans Labour Rights: Inadvertent Oversight or Tacit Omission

Abstract

Empowering women has come to be seen as a primary means to achieve women’s development in the discourse of development and policy initiatives. This has led to greater attention than before on the questions that expand the conventional understanding of empowerment itself. Much consideration has been given to answering these questions. What, however, has been ignored is the due emphasis on labour rights. The studies conducted by the feminists in the recent years have not only expanded the understanding of empowerment but have also highlighted the challenges and barriers to achieving it. Despite the fact that almost all studies have referred to the issue of weak enforcement of labour laws, the workings of development agencies do not reflect a keen commitment to this issue, in particular issue. With this backdrop, this paper reviews the existing development literature on empowerment and maps the ways in which empowerment has been measured using macro-economic indices like Gender Inequality Index (GII), Gender Disparity Index (GDI) and Gender Gap Index (GGI). It identifies the discrepancies and contradictions in the evaluations that data generated from these indices, arguing that ‘instrumentalist feminist goals,’ which are achieved through a top-down policy-level approach, are often at odds with ‘micro-level’ qualitative assessments of economic empowerment. The paper concludes with casting doubt on the compatibility of ‘development’ with women’s economic empowerment as it ignores the concomitant discussion on labour rights. It also ponders whether this omission is serving the needs of global capitalism and offers an insight into the deliberate or an unintentional oversight by the development actors.

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