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Building a Global Feminist Wellbeing Economy

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Alex Turner, storyteller and WEAll Scotland volunteer shares her reflections on the recent Cross Party Group on Wellbeing Economy.

The recent Cross Party Group event, Building a Global Feminist Wellbeing Economy, focused on the urgent need to apply a feminist lens when creating an inclusive and thriving economy. In collaboration with ActionAid and WEAll Scotland, the event aimed to spark conversations and actions geared toward how we can redesign our economic approach, emphasising a feminist perspective centred on environmental sustainability, wellbeing, and human rights, rather than prioritising GDP growth, the privatisation of public services, and corporate profits.

Attendees had the opportunity to hear from a diverse range of speakers, including representatives from Malawi who shared their insights on the movement towards a feminist wellbeing economy in their country. Additionally, speakers from WEAll Scotland and the Scottish Women's Budget Group contributed to the discussions.

Co-chairs of the Cross Party Group on Wellbeing Economy, Maggie Champman MSP and Emma Harper MSP were joined by speakers from Scottish Women's Budget Group, ActionAid Malawi, WEAll Scotland and Feminist Macro-Economics Alliance Malawi (not pictured)

Malawian perspectives on building a feminist wellbeing economy

Unlocking economic transformation through feminist principles

Economic justice and rights campaigner Jessica Mandanda, a member of the Young Urban Women’s Movement and the Feminist Macro-Economics Alliance-Malawi (FEAM), highlighted Malawi's involvement in the discussion on building a global feminist wellbeing economy, driven by the negative impact of neoliberal macroeconomic frameworks on the country, especially on women and girls.

As it stands, the current economic model in Malawi, influenced by loans and advice from institutions like the World Bank and IMF, has resulted in unsustainable debt, underinvestment, and cuts to essential public services like health and education. It also lacks mechanisms to alleviate the impact on the population, and fails to provide solutions for the wellbeing of its citizens, in particular the rights of women and girls.

Jessica emphasised the importance of transformative leadership that challenges patriarchal norms to create a more equitable and inclusive society. Her work with the FEAM amplifies the voices of women and girls, and advocates for transparency, accountability, and decision-making processes that consider the impact on women and girls. This important work has yielded notable achievements, such as the reform of the Land Rights Bill. This reform not only grants women legal protection for their land rights but also ensures that women who carry out the work are entitled to the earnings from their land's harvest.

Empowering financial resilience

Tusa Sikwese, the Malawi policy coordinator for ActionAid Malawi, highlighted positive solutions to empower financial resilience and address key issues in Malawi's economic system that continue to impact women and girls.

But what would a feminist approach look like?

Tusa called for debt cancellation or restructuring to prioritise the wellbeing of people and the planet. Her stories underscored the necessity of better access to essential services, especially in the large agricultural sector where many women work. It’s crucial to recognise the connection between these issues and climate change, as events like cyclones worsen regional vulnerability and restrict access to public health services. By addressing these concerns, financial resilience can be enhanced, leading to improved lives for women and girls in Malawi.

"We need a clean slate going forward, restructure debt repayments so that we can move forward and look into the wellbeing of people and the planet rather than focusing on GDP."

Tusayiwe Sikwese, ActionAid Malawi

The path to building a global feminist wellbeing economy

A systems take on the global feminist wellbeing economy

Rethinking the economy involves recognising areas of life that support and sustain society, namely care and domestic work – and understanding that these activities are not secondary to the capitalist economy. That the economy frequently overlooks women’s contributions is the core message in Katrine Marçal’s book "Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?".

On this theme, WEAll Trustee, Gemma Bone Dodds highlights the urgent need to reframe and integrate feminist and queer perspectives into mainstream economic thinking, rather than treat them as separate or peripheral. Building an economy that is fair and just, for people and planet, necessarily requires a shift in how economic success is measured.

Berkana Institute's Two Loops Model of systems change can be useful here as it captures the overlap of the decline of an old system with the emergence of a new one.

To catalyse the transition, Gemma emphasises the need to connect initiatives and pioneers driving the transition while also holding a vision of the new system. Making these connections visible helps shape a new narrative and influences policymakers to achieve systemic change.

Integrating gender analysis into decision-making

To build a feminist wellbeing economy, two crucial actions must be taken: addressing gender inequalities, and integrating gender analysis into decision-making processes.

As it stands, Heather Williams, the Scottish Women's Budget Group Training Lead, highlighted the disregard for care in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, emphasising the chronic undervaluing of care despite its essential role, as evident during the pandemic.

By acknowledging and tackling these inequalities, we can create a society that is more inclusive and equitable, where everyone's diverse needs are considered and equal opportunities abound.

To achieve this, governments, institutions, and stakeholders must demonstrate a strong commitment to prioritise gender equality and incorporate it into all decision-making processes. This entails developing policies that take gender equality into account and ensuring diverse representation in leadership positions.

Accountability plays a central role in this endeavour, as individuals need to be held responsible for ensuring equality is at the forefront of decision-making. This is why Heather Williams advocates for making gender budgeting recommendations legally binding.

But legislation alone cannot solve these issues and achieve the desired outcomes. That is why investments in education and awareness programmes are necessary to challenge stereotypes, promote equal opportunities, and cultivate a respectful and inclusive environment. And breaking away from siloed thinking that separates equality from financial considerations is crucial.

Creating a gender equal economy and a well being economy, they are supportive of each other but they're not synonymous. We need to make sure that work is being done to address those underlying beliefs and attitudes that cause gender inequality.

Heather Williams, Scottish Women's Budget Group

Key takeaways

In the path to building a global feminist wellbeing economy, three things are clear:

Firstly, we urgently need to (re)structure economies to prioritise the wellbeing of all people and planet.

Second is the need to move away from siloes and work together. As our speakers revealed, collective action is paramount in building a more equitable and inclusive global economy.

And lastly, we must actively include lived experiences lost.

"When we're planning any kind of economic intervention, if we're not looking at it through a feminist wellbeing lens, and if we're not looking at it from a feminist macroeconomics point of view, it is simply unsustainable to proceed with that work. The only way we can move forward is by having a collaborative and joint solution and the feminist wellbeing economy is one of those."

Jessica Mandanda, Feminist Macroeconomics Alliance Malawi

Together, we will build an economy that puts people and planet first.

Keen to get involved?

Find out more about the speakers:

Jessica Mandanda is a member of the Feminist Macroeconomics Alliance from Malawi.

She works on advocacy, influencing, and campaigning for a feminist wellbeing economy in Malawi. Jessica emphasises the importance of such work and the need for conversations surrounding it.

Gemma Bone Dodds is a trustee of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland.

Heather Williams is training lead for Scottish Women's Budget Group.

Tusayiwe Sikwese is policy coordinator in economic justice and rights for ActionAid Malawi


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