THE DOUBLE X ECONOMY
The Epic Potential of Women’s Empowerment
By Linda Scott
If there ever were a moment in the history of capitalism for the work of women to be fairly valued around the globe, that moment is now, as the coronavirus pandemic rages. In “The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Women’s Empowerment,” Linda Scott tells powerful stories about how “equal economic treatment for women would put a stop to some of the world’s costliest evils, while building prosperity for everyone.”
By costly evils, Scott, a professor emeritus at Oxford and the founder of the Global Business Coalition for Women’s Economic Empowerment, has in mind the cycle of poverty evident in countries that fail to keep girls in school, since girls who complete high school are not only better able to compete in the work force but tend to have their first child later and have fewer children over all, thus slowing population growth. They also are more likely to keep their children in school longer, feed them better and provide them with adequate health care. (Moreover, girls who stay in school are less likely to be victims of human trafficking.) But the pandemic and subsequent recession are crises made worse by existing impediments to women’s economic participation, obstacles that have resulted in a “shadow” or unacknowledged system of female labor — what Scott calls the “double X economy.”
Scott has been writing about women’s issues for many years, publishing some of the earliest studies on the role multinational corporations can play in improving women’s economic autonomy, such as her examination of Avon’s initiatives in developing countries. Her research has taken her to some of the world’s poorest regions, where, often in collaboration with local nonprofits and global companies, she has studied how to help women become entrepreneurs and be recognized and compensated for their work.
In Accra, Ghana, in 2008, Scott saw “hundreds of homeless adolescent girls,” many of them pregnant or holding an infant. She was there to start a project that would provide free sanitary pads to girls, on the theory that lack of access to pads was a central reason girls were dropping out of school. This “simple thing” — the ability to manage the flow of menstrual blood — could enable girls to stay in school as they moved through puberty. But she soon learned another reason there were so many girls on Accra’s streets: They were runaways seeking to avoid being sold as wives into a life of drudgery; some were forced to turn to prostitution to survive. As she tells it, this realization “forever changed the way” she thought about her research, shifting her focus to women’s hidden and unrecognized labor.
In “The Double X Economy,” she’s angry that a decade after her trip to Ghana women’s economic contributions still often go unseen. Mostly, she’s angry at economists, who for far too long have espoused the notion that only goods and services exchanged for money have value. What Scott wants us to see is that the work done by women, even if no money is exchanged, underpins the measured economy, and, moreover, that countries that include the most women in their market economies have stronger growth.
While I appreciate Scott’s frustrations, the double X economy is unlikely to change how economists think; the concept encompasses every aspect of life where women are disadvantaged relative to men: not only in their access to jobs, property, capital, credit and markets but also because of their “limited mobility, reproductive vulnerability and the ever-present threat of violence.” Unlike the information and gig economies, to which Scott compares it, the double X economy isn’t contained; it’s anything that limits women in any way. This quickly becomes a story of everything.
There are certainly many factors that limit women’s economic participation and life potential. And Scott identifies some of the most important ones, including domestic violence, child care, the gender pay gap and the gender divide in business ownership, through engaging and persuasive case studies showing how women’s work is both devalued and yet foundational to the measured economy. In the chapter called “Money Bullies,” for example, she explains how women’s exclusion from the realm of finance makes countries more vulnerable to financial crises.
Yet I wish “The Double X Economy” had focused less on trying to convince me of the need for a new catchphrase for a problem that’s been around forever, and more on concrete ideas about how to change the minds of those with the power to make policies that affect women and girls. Scott’s narrative makes clear that the whole population, not just half, matters for the global economy. As the world teeters toward recession, I’m wondering whether now we might finally correct this enduring injustice.