Women in the Wellbeing Economy: Post-event reflections and recording

By Lisa Hough-Stewart

What could economic system transformation mean for women and non-binary people? 

This was the question at the heart of the discussion convened on September 7 by WEAll, Caroline Lucas’ office and Kat Davis of Flip Finance.

WEAll has been working since May with Caroline Lucas’ team to promote the ongoing petition urging the UK Government to prioritise Wellbeing Economy approaches and ideas. We wanted to use the petition campaign to explore different aspects of what a Wellbeing Economy means in greater depth. This event was our mechanism to do so in relation to gender.

Recognising that the power structures of the current economic system often play out in how we engage with each other, the event was structured carefully to distribute power and space as evenly as possible.

After an introduction to Wellbeing Economy ideas from Dr Katherine Trebeck, the audience heard from four UK-based speakers who are actively working to bring about economic system change. Beautifully led by Kat Davis, there was an emphasis on the lived experiences of women and non-binary people throughout the discussion. 

Dr Milena Buchs (University of Leeds) shared her experiences as an academic, reflecting on the fact that academic funding and priorities increasingly mirror the economic system. Work is prioritised based on monetary value rather than societal value. She also advised that women need to challenge and avoid adopting the sorts of masculine behaviours endemic in the current system.

Denisha Killoh (WEAll Scotland and Includem) said that “this system is dominated by the pale, male and stale – it has been designed by them to serve them”. She emphasised the need to build a Wellbeing Economy that is meaningfully designed by and for those communities most impacted and marginalised by the current system.

Anna Fielding (Economic Change Unit) was open about her personal experiences being marginalised by the economic and healthcare systems, whilst also reflecting on her relative privilege as a white cisgendered woman. She said: “Wellbeing Economics is an idea and a movement that means the elite could no longer monopolise resources and power at the expense of everyone else. That makes it a dangerous idea, which is why I love it.”

Nonhlanhla Makuyan (Decolonising Economics) reflected on the original definition of “economy” as “the management of home” – and how we associate home (but not currently economics) with safety, comfort, relationships and feelings. She challenged: “What else can we expect this system to do other than extract” when it was built on exploitation and slavery in the first place?

Audience members were then able to share their own stories of how the current economic system has interacted with gender to impact them. Some of the themes that emerged were:

  • The struggle to balance caring responsibilities with work, and the lack of value placed on care roles
  • Being made to feel that economics was nothing to do with them
  • Credibility being brought into question, with views invalidated if they don’t conform to the norms of the system
  • Unequal pay and opportunities along gender lines
  • The intersection of existing inequalities with the pandemic has intensified challenges.

They also shared their hopes for what could be different in a Wellbeing Economy, imagining that it would mean:

  • True equality
  • Valuing care and embedding caring values
  • Everyone is meaningfully listened to
  • A system that is designed with a gender lens from the start, rather than treating intersectionality as an add-on
  • Female and non-binary leadership.

Finally, two “Keynote Listeners” reflected on everything they’d heard and possible ways forward.

Caroline Lucas MP praised the privileging of lived experience in the event, noting that the challenges of gender, race and disability shared by the speakers are interconnected symptoms of the extractive, exploitative economic system. She said: “The Wellbeing Economy gets at the causes of problems rather than symptoms, this binds together so many of the causes we’re involved in.”

Mandu Reid (leader of the Women’s Equality Party) said: “When I look at what slavishly following GDP has done, it’s a betrayal, particularly of younger generations. The economy neglects, overlooks, undervalues and ignores the contributions of women and non-binary people.” However, she is hopeful that we have the potential to correct our course and build a caring, Wellbeing Economy.

This is just a flavour of the powerful discussion – you can watch the full event on YouTube here or just hit play below:

If you are a UK resident, sign the petition – it needs to reach 100,000 signatures before 26 September to force a debate about the Wellbeing Economy in Parliament.

Whether you are in the UK or not, share it with your friends who live there!

Thank you to the incredible contributors and to the audience for sharing their stories so openly. The discussion was energising and uplifting, but it also laid bare just how deep the damage of the current economic system goes when you view it through a gender lens. The good news is, we can and must redesign this system so that it works for everyone – and the ideas shared in this discussion provide a place to start.

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