Our invisible economists who are worth their weight in gold
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Bente Madeira, with the If Women Counted exhibition
IN THE shadows of our faltering financial system is a group of "invisibles" who never stop working.
They run households, they feed, raise and teach their children - they are women. But many of their roles are unrecognised in the economy.
Bente Madeira, events co-ordinator at the Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC), in London Street, says: "The Latin for economy means literally 'one who manages a household'. All women are economists, in real life that's what women do."
But Mrs Madeira is frustrated by the lack of belief women have in themselves as economists. She believes their invisibility in the current economic system is a driving force behind poverty.
She says: "Women have many jobs. They breastfeed, they grow food, some build houses, they play with children, they teach those children things, but if a woman doesn't make a financial contribution she is called economically inactive."
An economic system that does not take into account this 'hidden' work is poorer for it, Mrs Madeira believes, because those who have less of an impact on their nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP) have less power to influence policy makers.
When a country faces financial difficulty the recent recession has proved that economically valuable institutions such as banks are not allowed to fail - subsequent funding cuts often trickle down to affect those with less economic influence.
Mrs Madeira said: "It's always services for women that go first. It's always the disabled, the sick, the old, the women, because those are the ones who can fight back least well. And they are the invisibles."
Jackie Oversby, an organiser at Home Start in Reading, agrees. She sees the important role women do every day through her organisation, which supports struggling families.
She said: "Women are the building blocks of society - they bring up the next generation. People who work with computers are more valued than those who work with people, but mums have the most important job in the world."
Ten years ago Mrs Madeira created an exhibition with RISC's If Women Counted group, which encourages women to take ownership of their important role.
Its message is that the two global measurements of economic success - GDP, the measure of a country's economic transactions regardless of who benefits from them, and GNP, a country's recorded economic activity regardless of where it takes place - are ineffective at measuring the work that underpins an economy.
The exhibition, funded by the Department for International Development, was first mounted at RISC for International Women's Day 2001. Now it is hired out to groups around Reading to highlight the issue. The exhibition summarises the work of the New Zealand feminist and politician Marilyn Waring as set out in her book, If Women Counted.
Explaining Waring's work, Mrs Madeira said: "In the current system of economics most work that does not involve cash transactions is not counted, therefore the vast majority of work that women do is not counted.
"We want women to say 'I am an economist'. They are the root of economics whether they are paid money or not."
The exhibition shows a large economic iceberg. Floating above the water are the select activities that are part of the visible economy measured by GDP and GNP - contract and waged labour and capital.
Hidden beneath is everything that is not measured including housework, subsistence work and raising children. Mrs Madeira believes that ultimately the current system needs an overhaul. She said: "Each country should be allowed to develop its own economy to suit its people.
"If subsistence was valued and systems were set in place to facilitate it, that would have a huge impact."
To find out about hiring the If Women Counted exhibition contact Bente Madeira at RISC by calling 0118 958 6692 or visit www.risc.org.uk