Is the global economy sexist?

Answer: When 22 men make more money than all of the women in Africa, an Oxfam study says absolutely.

Is the global economy sexist?
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
  • Worldwide, women and girls contribute an estimated $10.8 trillion to the global economy for care work that they are not paid for.
  • Women around the globe do more than 75 percent of all unpaid care work.
  • Women make up only 18 percent of cabinet ministers around the world and 24 percent of parliamentarians.

You may have heard the news that the richest 22 men in the world have more combined wealth than all 325 million women in Africa. This is according to a widely reported recent Oxfam study that highlighted how global economic inequality is intimately tied to gender and race.

Gender, division of labor, and pay

Source: Time to Care Report, Oxfam

Women and girls worldwide contribute an estimated $10.8 trillion to the global economy that they are not paid for. They collectively spend 12.5 billion hours per day on unpaid care work. Care work includes occupations like child care, healthcare work, teaching, and domestic labor. Though this kind of work is often left out of national economic equations, the monetary value of it is triple the worth of the global tech industry, according to an Oxfam report. Women around the globe, particularly those who live in poverty, do more than 75% of all unpaid care work. Despite its social importance and economic value, this labor is persistently undervalued and taken for granted by governments and companies around the world.

It manifests in different ways. In the United States, teachers, nurses, child social workers, day care workers, and other "care" jobs, which have been historically dominated by women, are underpaid. Furthermore, on an average day, women in the U.S. spend nearly 40 percent more time on unpaid care, like household duties, than men. Zoom out to a global scale and these issues are magnified in less wealthy nations like Africa where women aren't paid at all for this work. They end up trapped in poverty, unable to get an education and achieve financial security. They are also barred from government positions in which they can influence social and economic policy.

Economic and political inequality

Though men around the world are certainly suffering under the widening income gap and facing poverty, there is clearly a systemic gender disparity when most billionaires are men and most of the people occupying the lowest paid or unpaid jobs are women. Globally, men own more than 50% more wealth than women, and they also control government and economic decisions that could fix this system. Women make up only 18% of cabinet ministers around the world and 24% of parliamentarians.

The result has been a global economy designed by men, for men, that undervalues work done primarily by women, and especially marginalized women in already economically disadvantaged nations.

"When 22 men have more wealth than all the women in Africa combined, it's clear that our economy is just plain sexist," Oxfam GB's chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah said.

He noted that if world leaders care about reducing poverty and inequality, they need to invest in public services like care that make life less grueling for people with care responsibilities and hold back women and girls. Yet, closing the growing wealth gap is not on the top of the agenda of most world leaders. In fact, many of them continue to facilitate policies that widen it, such as tax cuts for billionaires, cuts in public spending, and privatization.

We need solutions now

Source: Time to Care Report, Oxfam

What it boils down to is a gendered discrimination of values in which neoliberal economic values are prioritized above social values like education and healthcare. The Oxfam report warns that aging populations, cuts in public spending, and the climate crisis will exacerbate gender-based economic inequality. Part of the solution is taxing the wealthy and learning to value care.

"Getting the richest 1% to pay just 0.5% tax on their wealth – just on their wealth, not their income – would create enough money over the next 10 years to pay for 117m jobs, in education, health and elderly care," said Katy Chakrabortty from Oxfam GB.

When we invest in social values, women are helped economically, but everyone reaps the benefits. Caregiving is going to be more valuable than ever in the next ten years. It's estimated that by 2030, 2.3 billion people will be in need of care. That's 200 million up from 2015 according to the Oxfam report. Part of this has to do with the climate crisis, which is deeply entangled with issues of human care. Over the next five years, it's estimated that 2.4 billion people will be living with water shortages. Already, women and girls are disproportionately affected by this because they need to walk further to find water to nourish their communities, adding to their unpaid workload.

By thinking beyond profit and choosing to invest in water, infrastructure, and child and health care, governments can improve quality of life and liberate laborers from hours of work per day. As of now, many of them are only bolstering a system under which billions of people, disproportionately women, are suffocating under the mass of concentrated wealth held by a small group of men who grow richer and richer.

Read the report here.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

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Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
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