Johannesburg – US president-elect Joe Biden reported decision to tap economist Janet Yellen as his treasury secretary breaks another barrier for women in politics and economics but is also a sober reminder of the sexism and gender gap that still exists in our shared universe.
If confirmed by the Senate, Yellen would become the first woman to hold the position since it was established in 1789.
Yes, it has taken one of the oldest and most progressive democracies in the world 231 years to consider a woman for the lofty position. This is the lot for women across the world – the waiting, yearning and marching to be recognised for nothing else but the enable talents they are born with, and skills and intellect they possess.
The finance ministry is still stubbornly one of those portfolios that for some reason or other people don’t see women in. Patriarchy has made it almost acceptable that unless you are wearing a threepiece suit and look like you come from an Ivy League university that you shouldn’t be a finance minister.
That’s utterly wrong. Economics has always been a gentlemen’s club and, unfortunately, this is still the case.
Women’s participation in economics is less than in any other social science. While we have seen the rise of accomplished women taking up prominent positions and using them to influence lives positively across the continent, the finance ministry is still elusive, not only in South Africa, but the broader world. As some consider it an opportunity to rub shoulders with their male counterparts, others have also used it to inspire young women. It gives the girl child hope that they too have a place in this world when the likes of Yellen run the world’s biggest economy.
Imagine if South Africa had a female finance minister who spent half her time broadcasting her love for garlic and tinned fish on social media. The criticism will be swift and severe – just because of their gender. Women and minorities are woefully underrepresented in economics.
Perhaps it was Yellen herself who better described the importance of female voices in the field of economics.
“Women focus on issues of great importance that are understudied by men. I’m particularly thinking about gender issues – such as the treatment of women [who are more than half the world’s population], the family [which is humankind’s most important institution], children [who at some point in our lives include everyone] and healthcare [which also concerns all of us].”
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