Counting on International Organizations: Feminist Economics and the Value of Women’s Unpaid Work
Economics draws its name from the Greek Oikos nomos, household management. However, the question of women’s household work had long been ignored in the “canonical” conceptions of international economic integration. Founding texts of the academic discipline situate this question outside of the market economy and, following Adam Smith’s thought, characterize it as “unproductive.” From the 1970s, a new generation of feminist economists highlighted how the silence on women’s unpaid work was driven by the gender prejudices of male economists on the sexual division of labor. This invisibility led to severe biases in national censuses and both macro and micro-economic models. This project led by Maylis Avaro, Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, and Johanna Gautier Morin as part of ECOINT’s project on Women International Economic Thinkers at the European University Institute, focuses on women economists whose contributions profoundly influenced the debates on women’s unpaid work in international organizations and beyond. The link between feminist economics and international organizations (IOs) was all the more crucial in the 1990s that feminist theories internationalized their scope of analysis, networks, and methodologies. Key figures will notably be Lourdes Beneria, who showed how censuses in developing countries faced important underestimations of the labor force because women’s works were poorly taken into account; and Marylin Waring, who demonstrated how the United Nations System of National Accounts (UNSNA), resulting from the male gaze partitioning between productive and unproductive labor, had failed to account for the diversity of women’s unpaid work internationally. We use the international debates around the UNSNA’s to document the fight for the recognition of women’s unpaid work and its virtuous contribution to broader discussions about environmental economics and development inequalities.