Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation

27.8.2002

Forum 1: Ecology and Economy

Even after decades of discussion about equal opportunity and sexism, the public today appears blissfully unaware of the reality of gender issues in the twin areas of the ecology and the economy. While most people assume that discrimination in the economy has been regulated enough already and will be eradicated in the near future, in the ecology there is hardly any awareness of all that gender issues play an important role.

In those Western countries where household garbage is sorted before it is picked up, said engineer and male studies researcher Max Peschek from Bremen, Germany. It is mainly women who take responsibility for it. This indicates that environmental awareness is not considered a male value. "If that´s the way it is," said Peschek, "it´s a problem."

In many developing countries, women are considered responsible for domestic life, including basic necessities such as obtaining water, energy and seeds. Leaving these responsibilities in the hands of women have proved beneficiary to the environment in some cases where women were allowed to participate in the decision-making process. One example was the production of a stove that burned 50% less wood. The motivation to build such a stove was the promise that women would have less work gathering wood, yet it had a direct effect on the environment.

Male values, said Peschek, were responsible for some of the greatest environmental disasters of our time. In both the Exxon Valdez and Chernobyl accidents, it was discovered that the men in charge were exhausted, yet had refused to take breaks, and had thus ended up making poor decisions with fatal consequences. The instinct of men not to take breaks when they are tired derives from a male value that interprets the need for rest as weakness.

These are all examples how gender values affect the environment, and how modifying gender roles may benefit the ecology. Peschek believes that gender and the ecology are tied together on a broader level as well.

"The ecology is embedded in the idea of sustainable development," said Peschek, "and gender is embedded in the issue of personality development." Peschek described three stages of personality development: As children, we are egocentric; as adults we become ethno- or sociocentric. The next stage in our adult development is "worldcentric," a stage that not all adults achieve.

That is the stage in which adults are most concerned with the environment, but even then, there is a difference in male and female mentality. "Worldcentric" men emphasize justice, while "worldcentric" women emphasize caring and relationships. This basic difference in the male and female approach affects how they approach the problems of the environment. "The biggest ecological problem is not about technical solutions," said Peschek, "it is about finding an agreement on how to act."

Not only the ecology, but the economy is also largely misunderstood in gender terms. Renée Laiviera of the Department for Women in Society in Malta said that current gender differences in the economy are almost unknown to the public. "Economic education, economic analysis and economic policy largely ignore gender politics," said Laiviera. "Even students are taught little about the gender gap in wages. There exists a hyperspace of assumptions about gender issues."

Some of those wrong assumptions include:
  • Men and women take up similar locations in the family and the economy (they don´t);
  • the male is the breadwinner (though this is less and less true, tax systems are still based on this assumption);
  • people working in the household are doing so for altruistic reasons (in fact economic reasons are often dominant);
  • the current increase in women´s employment is a result of equal opportunity policies (actually, it is partly due to the job market´s increased need for flexible workers willing to accept lower pay);
  • when restructuring the economy, gender is not important (in fact, economical restructuring is usually designed to suit the male as the proto-employee and thus produces lopsided results);
  • that equal pay is enough to end discrimination (in fact, current standards of recruitment, job structures and career potential will continue to support discrimination even when the wage gap is closed).
Laiviera argued that an all-encompassing strategy is needed to end discrimination and that female needs and values have to be integrated into our economical structure in order to make it efficient in the future. "Society is changing," said Laiviera, "and economical change must benefit our entire society."To achieve an economy that better reflects the changing realities of the job market, Laiviera challenged governments to analyse certain areas of policy like public expenditure, tax incidence and the impact of time use, and then restructure the economy in terms of greater gender-awareness. "The most important thing we should gain from any discussion about gender in the economy is this," said Laiviera: "Question the assumptions."

Referentin und Referent:

  • Renée Laiviera

  • Ministerium für Sozialpolitik
    Valetta, Malta

  • Max Peschek

  • Diplomingenieur
    Bremen, Deutschland


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