W7-FES BLOG | “A Feminist Social Contract for a New Digital Economic Future”

15 March 2022 |

In a new W7-blog post, Avantika Tewari from IT for Change analyzes the basic conditions for a digital future that also benefits women.

This is an excerpt of the FES W7 blog post by Avantika Tewari. Please read the full blog article on the FES blog page.

The faster pace of digitalization during the pandemic has tended to increase gender injustice. Systemic analysis, respect for the rule of law and a solidarity-driven strategy are essential to create a digital future that will benefit women.

Techno-capitalism in the Pandemic and the Abyss of Gender Injustice

The pandemic’s severity, scale and impact has cemented the ways in which the interlocking trio of digital technologies, economic production, and social reproduction has reinforced precarities and vulnerabilities for the marginalised, particularly women in the Global South, in the current neoliberal developmental paradigm. When many governments announced “shelter-in-place” guidelines and national lockdowns in 2020, there were hopes initially that the ensuing pan-economic intensification of digitalization would also be socially transformative.

On the contrary, two years later, it is evident that such accelerated digitalization has only exacerbated economic inequality by consolidating the hold of Big Tech behemoths over the essential digital and data infrastructures underpinning core economic and social sectors. Hinging on the narrative of eliminating the middleman, Big Tech’s platformization of services ranging from agriculture to food delivery is drawing informal-sector workers, many of whom are women, into underpaid piece-work arrangements in transnational digital value chains. In this new platform-based gig economy, women’s unpaid care work burdens are subsumed under the rhetoric of flexibility. Most worryingly, the failure of platform companies to provide adequate labour and social security provisions comes at a time when the welfare state is in retreat globally and the pandemic has exposed gaping holes in social security systems for women. It is now evident that over and above the erosion of decent work and job/income losses, we are in the midst of a full-blown livelihood crisis for women.

With 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019, 57 per cent of the jobs likely to be displaced by digital automation by 2026 being done by women, and significant gender gaps in what are classed “skills of the future”, a business-as-usual approach cannot work. To build better as we move forward, strategies for the post-pandemic global economic order must respond to the exclusion and forced displacement of the majority of women.


A Feminist Social Contract for a New Digital Economic Future

There is a pressing need to make a clean break with the current techno-capitalist paradigm and work towards a new digital economic future that serves human rights, social justice and gender equality. This calls for framing and upholding a feminist social contract based on three levers, as outlined below.

  1. Systemic overhaul to address underlying aspects of gender powerScience, technology and innovation (STI) policies are unlikely to have far-reaching impacts, unless they move beyond instrumental frames of inclusion to re-design the fundamentals of the economy towards a feminist transformation. They must:
    • enable women to move to higher value segments of the digital value chain through re-training programmes specifically targeted at women workers at risk of automation-induced displacement and provide women-led enterprises incentives for digitalization;
    • create public digital/data infrastructure for women entrepreneurs, artisans and micro-producers (high-speed connectivity, public data pools and machine-readable data sets in a wide range of sectors, public cloud infrastructure and public platform marketplaces) for decentralizing value distribution, prioritizing local economies, and putting in place institutional guarantees for women’s rights and wellbeing;
    • encourage public innovation to eliminate women’s drudgery and tax big digital players to generate fiscal resources for care infrastructure creation.

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