Women's Empowerment Beyond ‘Smart Economics': A Transnational Feminist Perspective

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Chizu SATO , Wageningen University, Netherlands
Since the economic crisis of the last decade, integrating women into development has become the major ‘smart economic’ strategy. UN Women states that “equality means business” and the year 2012’s World Bank report set gender equality as their top priority. Today, in the global South, Northern private corporations, like Coca Cola, aim to empower women in their value chains or at ‘the bottom of the pyramid’ by turning them into petty traders and vendors. Simultaneously, in the global North, corporations use cause-related marketing to empower privileged mothers to care for distant others by consuming ‘ethically’. 

Critical feminist scholars separately argue that each approach may be functional to structural inequalities. However, from a comparative perspective, both approaches involve women in market-oriented activities, see women as caring mothers and responsible consumers and frame investment in women as ‘smart economics.’ In order to strengthen existing analyses, ‘ethical’ consumption and southern livelihoods, presented thus far separately by critical feminist scholars, should be studied together. Such a study will, necessarily, be transnational and will draw on the theory and methods of both those who study the Northern consumer society (e.g. lifestyles and marketing) and those who focus on low-income societies (e.g. sustainable livelihoods).

This paper uses a transnational feminist perspective to examine existing feminist literature in a comparative study of the practices through which women generate livelihoods and the lifestyles women produce through their participation in Northern corporation led market-oriented development activities. This paper links inter-related constructions of mothers in the North and South in order to generate and test the foundations necessary to later study empirically if and how market-led corporate sponsored ‘smart economic’ development approaches obscure and/or transform structural inequalities in the name of women’s empowerment.