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The role of qualitative research for gender budgeting

Lucy Szablewska reflects on her experience at the first ever WBG ECN Annual Conference and on the role of qualitative research to gender budgeting.

Lucy Szablewska

Lucy Szablewska reflects on her experience at the first ever WBG ECN Annual Conference and on the role of qualitative research to gender budgeting. Latest article on our Women and the Economy blog series. 

I attended my first WBG event with some trepidation as a qualitative researcher, not an economist or political scientist. By the end of the day my fears had been laid to rest. The WBG makes space for different ways of seeing and different kinds of knowledge. The chief concern is to bring all the different insights together in the most rigorous way possible in order to answer the central question – how government policies impact on men and women differently, and what we can do about it. I loved the focus on clear communication, so brilliantly exemplified by leading WBG members, and the courteously forensic analyses of public policy in all the presentations.

The purpose of my talk was threefold – how I came to find WBG, how qualitative research might contribute to WBG’s work, and one particular research challenge.

My presentation began with a quick introduction to my doctoral research with 18 Polish worker-carers in households stretched between North-East England and Poland. This focus grew out of my family’s Polish connections, and our painful awareness of the gulf between everyday life and public debates on the UK’s place in the EU. I explored the social relations underpinning intergenerational remittances, paying particular attention to population ageing and longevity. Two key ideas proved helpful. One was Gibson-Graham’s ‘economic iceberg’, which represents a diverse economy in the submerged part of the iceberg. The other was Katz’s use of the ‘care diamond’, which situates familial caregiving in a shifting constellation of care relations distributed between the state, family, market and community.  Recently I came across Susan Himmelweit’s work on care and then the purple WBG poster ‘What is feminist economics’. It was one of those moments when one thinks ‘I’ve been trying to put this into words for months. They’ve done it so beautifully on one page!’

What can qualitative researchers contribute to WBG’s work? They can capture nitty-gritty complexity. One example – auto-enrolment pensions are in the news as a success story for low-paid workers. However, thinking about my research participants, low-paid women in my community and my own experience of casual low-paid university work over the course of my thesis, I question the success narrative. Should women juggling low-paid employment and unpaid care labour have to pay into one or more different private pension pots that won’t pay out enough for a secure retirement? What are their experiences on the ground? More research is needed. The findings could feed into, for instance, WBG briefings on the gender gap in pensions, and portable pension schemes and carer credits.

One unresolved question is still niggling away at me.  How can we take informal economy practices into account in public policy? This concern emerged out of the multiple and contradictory ways that individuals do and don’t challenge the gendered inequalities arising from unpaid care labour. I finished by reflecting on the ways in which women with caring responsibilities in Poland bear (and challenge) the burden of drastic cuts to secure employment and social security since ‘economic shock therapy’ was introduced the year after the Berlin Wall came down 30 years ago.

Perhaps the most useful outcome of the day was gaining the confidence to talk about gender budgeting. The next challenge is putting it into practice with policymakers. I look forward to hearing about the findings of the Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy, and to reading the wonderful work of my fellow panelist Daniela Jenkins on pensions. Thanks to everyone for the inspiration.

Lucy Szablewska is a PhD student at Durham University.

Unpaid Work

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