Coming in Spring 2019, my latest book:
The Sex Factor - How Women Made the West Rich
(published by Polity Books)
The popular story of how the West grew rich is largely one of male scientists, inventors and industrialists, with female liberation presented as a mere by-product. Women are seen as passive beneficiaries of economic growth - as the people who should be forever thankful to their male ancestors for creating the riches that enabled women’s rights to flourish. In giving advice to today’s poorer countries, we imagine that the economy comes first and then women’s rights follow. In this book I argue that we need to look at things the other way around. It’s time to see women as active creators not passive beneficiaries. Looking to the history of the now rich economies, we see that women’s freedom comes first, not last. It is the elephant in the room when it comes to explaining how a small country like Britain moved from being a backwater to global economic leader. Whilst women’s freedom was by no means perfect, it was superior to much of the rest of the world, giving the West an advantage that was difficult to beat. I argue that it boosted wages, skills, saving, entrepreneurial spirit and helped to produce a democratic and capable state. If the West wants to stay ahead, that’s worth remembering today.
At a time when women’s rights and freedoms are under attack in large parts of the world, the role of women's freedom in creating successful economies needs to be recognised. Until greater economic significance is placed on gender equality as a cause - not only consequence - of economic success, it won't be given the importance it deserves and gender inequalities will go unaddressed. That includes unequal access to markets and resources, birth control restrictions and the unequal distribution of care. If policymakers in poor countries want to identify the obstacles in the way of growth (and if richer countries want to move forward rather than backwards) they need to look within their own homes. What we think of as personal is also political. And that includes our own bodies. Women's bodies are one of the big battlegrounds we face today. Women cannot be free if they do not have control over their own bodies.