In the women’s studies field, there is plenty of academic literature about female roles in the political economy. But that information rarely trickles down to the rest of us, in large part because the topic of economic woes and successes can be dry and difficult to visualize for even the most disciplined news follower.
Enter the online exhibition Economica. A project by the San Francisco-based International Museum of Women as part of its Web-based offerings examining women’s roles in public and private spheres, it includes opinion essays by development and policy leaders alongside slideshows and podcasts. Curator Dr. Masum Momaya said that one of the goals in opening the exhibit was making women’s perspectives on economic development more accessible. (More details about the exhibit can be found on the corresponding story on Huffington Post Impact.)
The thing that sets the exhibit apart from many displays of public works is a call for viewer stories and artwork. User submissions are being solicited and will live alongside curated work, including photo essays by photographers around the world on subjects such as the education of illiterate women in Morocco and China’s “floating population” of female migrant workers.
One particularly striking piece is Viviane Dalles’ Growing Debt about the effects that the introduction of genetically modified cotton to India has had on indebting farmers and the responsibilities that their widows must take on after their fairly common suicides. But not all of the work presented is dire: a podcast with Momaya and social economist Naila Kabeer describes ways that political organizing has improved women’s money-earning potential in both the formal economy.
Clare Winterton, executive director of the social change-oriented IMOW, said the topic of women’s money-earning capacity worldwide had been planned as the exhibit to follow last year’s Women, Power and Politics, which generated participation across 200 countries. The economics project was underway when global markets collapsed, which made looking at the global economy from women’s perspectives more timely than the organization could have realized.
Momaya, who curated both the economics and politics exhibits, noted that few people have talked about what the economic collapse has meant for women. “Women have been long in crisis, between managing scarcity in their homes and now as more of them become national finance ministers,” she said. “In most of the world, their social role as caretakers has forced them to know how to make a lot out of a little…while ensuring that goods and food are produced, even when they don’t see the funds that result.”
While hearing that only 25 percent of women in the Arab world are part of the paid work force compared with more than 65 percent in the rest of world is striking, understanding the impact such a statistic could have on our economic future is far more pressing. Momaya’s observations about the bigger picture are especially worthwhile:
- Globalization and the economic crisis have different impacts on men and women;
- Even though women don’t have an equal share of resources, they “historically have and are creating innovative solutions for scarcity and have always contributed to growth;”
- While investing in women is important, we should recognize the importance of improving traditional economic systems and challenging discriminatory cultural practices if we expect returns on those investments;
- And, most importantly: “The current crisis provides an opportunity to ask what kind of economy we really want — and create it.”
Economica manages to humanize the impact of policymakers’ and institutional decisions in graphic and intriguing ways. It uses the most sensible technique to do so: inviting women to tell their stories themselves.
Ashoka: Innovators for the Public are hosting Tech 4 Society, a conference exploring technology, invention and social change, in Hyderabad, India, in February 2009. Find out more about the conference here. This blog post doubles as an entry in their competition to find the official blogger to travel to and cover the event.