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Joey Dickinson

I found this article to be perhaps the most interesting of anything we've read so far. In particular, I thought the issues surrounding empowering women that were brought up-- such as the potential inefficiencies of putting women in positions of power, or the lack of evidence supporting the micro-credit industry's focus on providing credit to women-- were interesting. In my opinion, this emphasizes the importance of ensuring that we don't view women's empowerment as a "magic bullet," as the authors point out. Policy, while crucial to economic development on the whole as well as women's empowerment, should be very carefully considered before being implemented (as of course any policy should be; however, we have to ensure that women or other vulnerable populations aren't accidentally harmed by this policy.

The claim that "it will be necessary to continue to take policy actions that favor women at the expense of men, and it may be necessary to continue doing so for a very long time" also resonated with me. The kind of policy actions described within this piece (especially regarding the micro-credit industry and the challenges associated with providing women the resources and education to use the credit well) illustrated just how deeply embedded into our various institutions the challenges women face are. I think this is reflective of the challenges that other vulnerable populations, and it is crucial that we recognize that equality might mean comparative disadvantage for those who have traditionally had unearned advantage and/or privilege at the expense of others.

Ben Graham

In this piece, Duflo provides an interesting analysis of the relationship between gender dynamics and economic development. She asserts that the empowerment of women and development are complementary; while economic development provides the necessary infrastructure for the empowerment of women, the empowerment of women can also facilitate development. However, this cyclical process can not create sustained development. Duflo argues that economic development and a reduction in poverty benefits women the most, given their relative position to men. While this process will lead women to gain power and be more equal to men, mere economic development is not enough to achieve complete equality. Rather, additional policy that specifically targets women is needed to achieve this goal. Another interesting point that Duflo makes is that the positive impact of empowering women in regard to decision-making may be overstated. For example, while empowered women may improve things like health and nutrition, the author found that they do so at the expense of education.

I could personally relate to the author's discussion of gender dynamics in South Africa. After my sophomore year, I spent the summer working in an impoverished township outside of Cape Town, where I consulted with struggling businesses and helped them to formalize themselves and grow. There, I saw how women were often forced into the position as head of the household, as drug and alcohol addiction plagued the male population in the township. Frequently, I would hear stories about how the men would take what little money the family had to spend on alcohol and drugs. Such an occurrence forced the women to not only take care of the children, but also find their own means of income and be financially responsible. This relates to Duflo's point related to the male tendency to spend on alcohol.


What I found most concerning in Duflo's paper is that economic growth is not enough to overcome gender discrimination, even in rich countries. The fact that the sex ratio at birth in South Korea is similar to that of China or India indicates that something is clearly wrong here. I know for a fact that there are still many conservative families in South Korea who invest less in their daughters (in terms of educational opportunities) because they can just be "married off." I also know for a fact that feminist ideologies are becoming more and more popular in South Korea today, as more people are realizing that gender inequality is the root of many problems in Korea (especially in the labor market, a problem that existed even during the "Miracle of the Han"). The fact that women inequality existed in South Korea during the process of its "Miracular" growth and has persisted until today suggests that this problem is either very difficult to solve, even in rich countries, or hard to properly address.
Naturally, then, I was very interested in hearing what Duflo had to say about the policies needed to overcome these challenges and agreed with the statements she made (about women empowerment in families, women's ability to make decisions, property rights for women, etc).
However, there are several glaring problems with Duflo's proposals, some of which she addresses. The first is that these policies, and even the resulting economic development and women empowerment, aren't "magic bullets" that are guaranteed to solve problems. Of course, that is because Duflo's proposals are just guides/outlines and actual implementation is much more complicated, but this fact makes way for more obstacles and concerns. One concern is timing: how long will it take for developing countries to reap tangible benefits at a large scale via women empowerment? If workplace inequality, a problem that existed in South Korea since the 1960s, still plagues the country in 2020, how long will it take for countries like Cambodia to treat women equally? How long will it take for much more conservative Asian and Middle Eastern countries to shift their cultural views and accept that their daughters can work and be as "valuable" as their sons if such views still exist in South Korea? Progressive and rich countries like the US still suffer from heat regarding gender inequality...how realistic is it that third-world countries will overcome this glaring problem, and if they can, how long will it take?


Duflo's paper seemed to encompass Amartya Sen's idea of freedom as a means to development. By providing more agency to women, many development indicators such as fertility, infant mortality, and nutrition increase on many accounts. I was especially drawn to the argument that because women have different preferences for priorities than men, they will also have different preferences for policymaking. Despite many stereotypes that frame women as less effective in leadership, women policymakers have demonstrated significant improvements in the well being of women. Even if they do not enforce policies that are specific to women empowerment, the existence of a women in power, influences parents' decisions in educating their children and their investment in their daughters. One important caveat of this vehicle of empowerment, however, determines it imperative to provide quotas and reservations for women so that the implicit bias against women, does not prevent women from being elected in the first place. For a long time, I have been cautious to support affirmative actions as a minority, simply because I felt that people should be elected into a role based on their merit. Yet, if there are systemic barriers preventing minorities, like women from acting on their capabilities, such as having the freedom to participate politically, then it becomes absolutely necessary for positions of power to be elected. After all, if a government is designed to represent the voices of its constituents, that include women, its leadership should have some female representation. Ultimately, providing agency to women is about development, and to elevate the well-being of everyone, women need to have a voice in politics. Just like economics needs more diversity in order to shed like on issues that would otherwise go ignored, women need to be elevated in order to address issues like productive resource allocation, nutrition and child mortality, and education that are pertinent to everyone's well-being.

-Stephanie Sezen

Mercer Peek

I thought the temporary quota system for female policymakers in developing countries was interesting. The point that even though the women put on regional councils in India had less education than their male peers, their regions had better outcomes was striking. It makes sense that giving women a platform to voice their needs would improve living conditions at home, in the female domain. I can absolutely see how in a patriarchal society, the men on city council would ignore their wives complaining about the quality of the drinking water they collect, or that the teachers don’t show up at their kids’ schools, or any other sort of “female” domestic complaint. If there is no proof that putting women on these councils harms anything, and it often helps, it makes sense to me.
However, I think that it is important to note the danger of appointing women (or any sort of sub-group or population) just for the sake of representing them. In a rural Indian village, there likely not a huge difference in the capacities of educated men and their less educated wives- I would expect them to be similarly capable to make policy for their small area. However, as you start moving up in the government and looking at larger cities and countries, it is essential that representatives be well-qualified. In most developing countries, female education is neglected or even actively ignored. It is ill-advised to put poorly qualified candidates in these positions. I agree that there needs to be female representation, but it should not be mandated until we can ensure equal qualification. I think the first mandate should be in equal educational opportunities for girls and boys (which we are seeing). Once that is accomplished, if female representation in the government is still not naturally occurring, then it could be time to think about a temporary quota.

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