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Some reflections on regulating financial markets – from a feminist perspective

In the period 2099-2011 AWID coordinated efforts in different regions with feminist economists and activists. The process of research that it led on the impact of the systemic crisis on women  and the accumulation of data and analysis  was a rich education process that instilled us to reflect  on the linkages between macroeconomic and women´s rights and gender equality.

The “A bottom up approach to righting financial regulation” initiative, that AWID co-founded, is another space and tool to advance on these reflections and to push forward specific recommendations from a feminist perspective. We shall aim also to continue provoking us and other colleagues to identify interlinkages, analysis and recommendations in times of profound crisis, uncertainties and contradictions.

We in AWID feel it is a key moment to try to address some questions that persist: What does the financial regulation have to do with human rights? How can we make more tangible to us and to others the connections between macroeconomics, finance and women´s rights? How can the finance regulation help address the impacts of the finance and economic crisis we have long debated and researched as feminists? What are the lessons and recommendations from feminists and feminist economist? What to do with the silence and disregard to women´s rights and gender equality when we read about the financial crisis? So the questions are many as we try to understand these issues and how a feminist perspective lens will enrich and contribute to them.

We want to thank Dr. Christa Wichterich from WIDE Germany that prepared these reflections and invite you to visit our website at www.awid.org to learn more about our work on these issues.


From a feminist perspective the first goal of each economy is to satisfy needs, fulfil rights, and safeguard people’s social reproduction and social security, as well as nature’s regeneration and sustainability. It is an obligation of states to facilitate such a “caring” economy, to provide and safeguard social and natural commons and implement citizens’ rights by redistribution of wealth and welfare.

It is of utmost importance that any regulation of the financial market must introduce ethical standards and include binding obligations for banks, fund managers and rating agencies to fully respect human and social rights, in particularly not to violate or undermine the right to food, water and housing, the right to education, health and social security, including old age security. As not only the whole real economy, but public services and citizens’ access to resources, social reproduction as education and healthcare, and social security are nowadays credit-based and those credits are traded on the financial market in packages, financial investment and speculation have become not only highly complex and non-transparent but also reckless, aggressive and unethical, meaning that they do not consider the impact on livelihoods, social reproduction and social security, e.g. food price hikes. People’s savings or their payments in life insurances are absorbed in those financial products and get included in the race for maximisation of returns and profit accumulation. This kind of financialisation means gambling with people’s livelihoods and lives.

Ultimately, the regulation of the financial market aims at changing the norms and unethical standards of the most important players in the market. Fulfilment of human rights should be respected as limits to market efficiency and returns on investment, the public good should be given preference over the individual investor’s interest to maximise returns. Obligations to respect, and protect human rights and basic needs should be criteria for the assessments given by rating agencies.

Odious debts which result from unethical market behaviour have to be cancelled in the case of individuals as well as in the case of states. State’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights must be a bottom line for debt. Austerity policies force states to cut down social services and privatise public goods. Thus they imply a high risk to social and human rights. States and communities have to be protected against speculation and over-indebtedness, Central Banks should support them directly and protect them instead of asking States to rescue bankrupt banks.

The regulatory framework for financial transactions must be embedded in the international framework of social, labour, economic, human rights and standards as well as environmental agreements. Rights set out in the respective treaties and agreements must prevail over the rights of investors, and the freedom to carry out financial transaction.

Banks and funds whose financial products and transactions in the end violate basic human rights must be held accountable. Governments and affected communities should have the possibility to bring banks and financial institutions to court.

The objectives of rules and regulations for the financial markets are:

  • to confirm the rights of people vis-à-vis powerful actors in the financial market;
  • to confirm the rights of governments to regulate the financial market;
  • to  assert the obligations of states to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, both within and outside of their territories;
  • to provide protection to people, public authorities and the planet against the risks that financial transactions and speculation may bring;
  • to set out the obligations that banks, rating agencies and fund managers should comply with;
  • to establish (inter)national instruments that can effectively enforce obligations of powerful market agents and address their misconduct.


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February 2017
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