Why is women’s work STILL undervalued and unacknowledged?
The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off.
— Gloria Steinem
Economic inequality surrounds us. It drags us down. It makes us poorer. It drowns us. It destroys our dreams. It destroys our lives.
In this powerful and enraging book, The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Empowering Women (Faber and Faber; 2020), global thinker and author Linda Scott brilliantly argues that “equal economic treatment for women would put a stop to some of the world’s costliest evils, while building prosperity for everyone.”
These “costly evils” include the unequal access to education for women and girls, domestic violence, sex trafficking, the gender pay gap, the lack of child care and the gender divide in both business and land ownership. As an internationally renowned expert on women’s economic development and Emeritus DP World Professor for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Oxford, Professor Scott has seen a lot of gender-based economic inequality around the world, and is a position of authority to compare the world’s poorest nations to the richest.
From the backstreets of Accra to the boardrooms in New York City, Professor Scott thoroughly investigates female economic disenfranchisement and explains how this prevents women from fully participating in society. She makes it clear that only goods and services that are exchanged for money are valued — but contends throughout most of her book that it is the work done by women, which is often unpaid, is what actually supports the global economy. But despite this, women remain economically disenfranchised.
Professor Scott points to an uncomfortable paradox: in the United States, where women are paid less than 70 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, they determine 67% of all consumer spending. It is similar in developing countries, where women’s work is devalued and yet is foundational to the measured economy, according to research. Additionally, real life experiments find that when women in developing economies have more control over family finances, not only do they benefit, but their children do, too. And this benefits national economies as well. But women’s exclusion from finance makes countries more vulnerable to financial crises, as Professor Scott explains in detail in the chapter, “Money Bullies.”
Throughout her entire polemic, Professor Scott assembles a tremendous amount of scientific evidence to argue clearly and convincingly that female economic exclusion must change. She skilfully interweaves research with her first-hand experiences to explain the way things are now, highlighting how things can be improved and the social and economic results when such changes are implemented.
I do have several criticisms, which I hope will not reduce the significance of this book’s argument. First, I was bothered greatly by Professor Scott’s repeated use of the term ‘forced sex’ or ‘sex against her will’ because, in my view, nonconsensual sex is rape, plain and simple. The fact that rape is so common — in times of peace as well as during war — underscores that rape culture is globally entrenched, and using euphemisms does nothing to change this fact.
I also was bothered by Professor Scott’s assertion that giving African girls a good education and good jobs would naturally stall population growth, thereby reducing the climate crisis. On one hand, yes, this is true, but on the other hand, this argument fails to recognize who the real climate change villains are: the Developed World, especially the United States, China and the European Union (ref). These top three greenhouse gas emitters produce 41.5% of total global emissions, whilst the bottom 100 countries (which includes most African nations) only account for only 3.6%. To contend that reducing the birth rate of Black and Brown Africans will do much to reduce climate change is to miss the point.
Despite my criticisms, I was greatly energized by this book’s argument as well as by its delivery. Professor Scott does not pull any punches, and nor should she. Using scientific research and describing the nuanced short- and long-term outcomes from real-life experiments, she hammers away at the many mundane ways — both big and small — in which women are denied economic equality, from bride burning when a woman’s husband has spent his wife’s dowry to outright denial of bank loans and savings accounts based on sex alone.
Professor Scott’s writing is passionate and accessible, her research is meticulous (34 pages of notes and references), but in spite of all she has seen and experienced and read, she remains hopeful. In the epilogue, she proposes tangible solutions to rectify gender-based economic inequality and divides them into three categories: one set of suggestions for the United States, because it is at an important crossroads that will determine women’s fate for many years to come, and which will also ripple out to affect women around the world; a second set for the global community; and a third for individuals. Professor Scott ends her book by calling upon everyone to ‘think creatively about your own strengths’ and how to apply them to help women achieve economic equality.
Shortlisted for the 2020 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize and longlisted for the 2020 Financial Times / McKinsey Business Book of the Year award, this provocative book is an essential call to action for women to participate equally in the global economy.