The following piece was authored by RFG Fellow, Caitlyn Bess in the Ms. Magazine.
How many women and girls throughout the millennia have been better suited to something other than the “women’s work” they were confined to? How much productivity and technological progress has the world missed out on by assigning roles by gender and not aptitude? The invisibility of women in world affairs leads to unnecessary pain and suffering, for women and men alike.
Imagine aliens who know nothing about the human race were to conduct a research project on our species. Like any good researchers, they would start by examining the written record. Since all that has been written about the human race has been written by humans themselves, the aliens would pore over humankind’s government decisions, research endeavors, academic writing and so on.
Our alien researchers would not be unreasonable to hypothesize that the human race consists of a default group “men” cohabitating the Earth with a small minority of a subcategory group “women.”
Then, imagine the aliens’ surprise once they move on to direct observation of life on Earth to discover that, in fact, women comprise half of all homo sapiens! How could we have known there were so many of them? the alien researchers might ask themselves. How could they have, indeed.
For too long, women have been invisible in world affairs. (Need further proof? Check out the hashtag #WhereAreTheWomen to see the sheer perniciousness of the erasure of women.)
And this invisibility of approximately 50 percent of the world’s population has real consequences. It leads to incomplete and inaccurate pictures of reality, which in turn leads to poorly planned policies, or perhaps a lack of policies in issue areas that need them. But ultimately, the invisibility of women in world affairs leads to unnecessary pain and suffering, for women and men alike.
An Incomplete and Inaccurate Picture of Reality
When 50 percent of the population is “invisible,” people do not have a complete picture of what is actually going on in the world. This comes out in a multitude of ways—like how countries calculate GDPs and diagnose the causes of social problems, and how the defense sector assesses risk.
The way GDP is calculated is case in point for the invisibility of women. GDP is supposed to capture a country’s level of economic activity in terms of all goods and services produced in the country. However, GDP only accounts for work and production in the traditional, masculine sense of the words—that is, work and production which is exchanged for money.
Work that is necessary for daily life like cooking, cleaning and caring for children and animals are not included in GDP, unless money changes hands. Since most of this work is done by women in their own homes without monetary compensation, it is not included in the figure which is supposed to represent a country’s production.
This is no surprise—in a world where women are invisible, so is their labor. Therefore, many countries probably look richer or poorer than they are in reality. This has real-world consequences, because woman-blind politicians, policymakers, academics and pundits make decisions based off of GDP.
An incomplete or inaccurate view of the world can also lead to the misdiagnosis of the real root of a problem.
One example is terrorist group recruitment: In a world of invisible women, policymakers may think that ideological extremism, unemployment or nationalist fervor drive men to join terrorist groups. While those are definitely factors, one of the best predictors of terrorist group recruitment is actually the condition of the marriage market. If men cannot afford the brideprice to get married, they will join terrorist groups to make the money to do so—especially in cultures where a man is not seen as a man until he marries and becomes head of a family. Therefore, policymakers looking to combat terrorism would be wise to look at local marriage markets, but they might not even think to look there if women are invisible.