Towards a parity democracy – Irune Aguirrezabal

It’s time to talk about a new social contract, which women desperately need.

COP26: Most men watch men (Paul Adepoju / shutterstock.com)

The call for a new paradigm, a social contract replacing the neoliberal “Washington consensus”, is becoming a trend in world thought, like the G7. The deepest implication of the The ‘Cornwall Consensus’ – as it was called after the group’s summit in Britain in June – would be a revitalization of the state’s economic role in pursuing social goals, strengthening international solidarity and reforming global governance in the interest of the common good.

Economist Mariana Mazzucato is one of the main voices calling for a radically different approach to international economic governance. Yet she rightly points out that it’s not just about increasing public spending:

It is not enough to raise more money: how that money is spent is just as important. Public investment must be channeled through new contractual and institutional mechanisms that measure and encourage the creation of long-term public value rather than short-term private profit.

Many feminist theorists would argue that women’s empowerment and gender sensitivity are the most relevant “long-term public value” in the new social contract we need. Even the most revolutionary transformations of modern times, from the Enlightenment to the welfare state, were designed by and intended for men and their well-being. Women were fundamentally ignored and subordinated, their rights violated.

Feminist milestone

Articulating and highlighting structural and multidimensional discrimination against women, and thus putting it on the political agenda, has been an important step for feminist political theory and activism. As a result, over the past quarter of a century – since the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action – historic changes have been set in motion in the lives of girls and women around the world. Feminist thought now permeates institutions, policies and standards.

Yet we remain far from where women need to be if they are to fully contribute to and benefit from the system. The new social contract must understand and integrate what works for women and what they need.

There are only nine years left to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A predominant idea in this agenda is that women’s empowerment and gender equality is not just a specific goal (number five). It is also a tool for transformation, to renovate social norms that maintain symbolic, cultural, political and economic discrimination against women. But as the Covid-19 crisis has shown – and the 2008 financial crisis before it – the political and intellectual discourse in favor of the empowerment of women is at odds with a largely neoliberal governance practice.

Devastating for women

Indeed, as Wendy Brown argues, neoliberalism has become “the rationality of governance present in every human act that redefines democracy”. It allowed the feminization of the labor market and the access of women to public and political life. But he hasn’t been able to factor in the economics of unpaid care and the lack of freedom and security for women – and what that means for girls and women in every act of their lives. This left the social system at a crossroads.

In his recent book, Gender inequality and welfare states in Europe, Mary Daly argues that the impact of the waning welfare state associated with austerity – less redistribution to services and benefits – has been far more devastating for women than is commonly believed, even though it happened at the same time that these same women officially gained more rights. She argues that “the goal of gender equality has been elusive, not only because of political opposition, but also because of a lack of clarity on how best to frame equality and take account of it. family considerations are taken into account ”.


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In his Global gender gap 2021 report, the World Economic Forum records that the pandemic has reversed global progress in achieving gender equality. In July 2020, McKinsey revealed that women around the world were almost twice as likely as men to lose their jobs with the pandemic, linked to their disproportionate care load. Women are worse off due to multiple gender disparities, and in reality their daily life is far from equal to that of men.

In this context, feminists would primarily attack the system for its lack of legitimacy and social justice. But for neoliberalism, the only argument that matters is “efficiency”: McKinsey estimates the potential consequence of women’s economic participation thus denied to be $ 1 trillion withdrawn from global economic growth during this decade.

This is the crossroads: neoliberal governance meets a political discourse on the empowerment of women which, at bottom, it does not care about. The norms and social goals of the rationality that governs us are always ruled by men. But ignoring what works for women’s empowerment is now seen to have damaging economic outcomes.

New social contract

It is imperative that the new social contract embodying the emerging economic, political and cultural paradigm be constructed, conceptually and in practice, with a clear understanding of the reality of women in the world. For once, we must embrace the social citizenship of women. This means overcoming the public / private-male / female dichotomy and treating public spending as a global emergency, including through public-private partnerships. The objective would be to ensure co-responsibility in the use of time, in care and domestic tasks.

The “Cornwall Consensus” gives us a glimpse, in terms of governance, of an associated “parity democracy”, which must be based on three principles. Of course, two are freedom and equality, but freedom must also mean the absence of gender-based harassment and violence, and equality must mean substantive equality between genders, men and women. having the same conditions and opportunities to develop their personal and professional life, which necessarily implies the masculinization of care.

The third principle is both a goal and a tool to achieve real equality and freedom between the sexes. It’s gender parity: equal voice and influence in decision-making. Take Latin America as an example.

Large mobilization

My book, Parity democracy in Latin America, analyzes the determinants of the broad mobilization in favor of parity democracy in the region over the past 25 years. There is now an opportunity to withdraw neoliberalism from Latin American governance and convince social and political actors that a new social contract in synergy with the gender agenda is possible and necessary.

The Montevideo regional strategy for the implementation of the 2030 agenda requires a new governance model with strong state intervention, in partnership with the private sector. With the pandemic, this has become more compelling and an urgent task.

A new Latin American double “pink tide” – of governments that defend a social agenda but also that of the empowerment of women – could point to a profound transformation, integrating gender parity and real equality in the political vision of the parity democracy. The constitutional process underway in Chile will be a test.

Irune Aguirrezabal Quijera is alsosenior international professional in law, policy and strategy on global affairs and sustainable development issues. A fA former United Nations official, she has held leadership positions in governments and civil society organizations in Europe, Africa and Latin America. She has a Doctorate in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies.

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