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Is GDP sexist? Can Doughnut Economics provide an alternative framework?

This blog post is an adaptation of an essay I wrote for the MSc Agroecology and Food Sovereignty course I am involved in at Coventry University.

I want to celebrate the work of Tiny House Community Bristol (THCB) I feel so relieved that such a movement exists, that such a committed group of people are challenging the way in which our society is governed and organised, by presenting a model that values human and non human ecosystems.

---------- by Rosa Beesley

Is GDP sexist? Can Doughnut Economics provide an alternative framework


I will explore the thought that capital driven economic indicators are inherently sexist and have been the force for natural resource exploitation, there is a dire need for a new way to measure and value our interaction with the world.

I will touch on the links between capitalism and the patriarchy, how this dual force has created restrictive and oppressive experiences for many women, marginalised groups and the natural world. Specifically I will consider the idea that GDP (the internationally comparable economic capital unit) is inherently sexist. Invented in response to the Great Depression as a means to estimate and predict future economic fluctuations, the framework excluded domestic labour concluding it too difficult to value. In subsequent years GDP and therefore our economy has perpetually favoured income-generating industry and marginalised domestic labour.

THCB are using the Doughnut economic model for their community design. Doughnut economics is a framework presented by Kate Raworth in 2017, enabling us to consider how we meet the needs of all in the means of the planet (Raworth 2017). The two key thresholds are; the social foundation that a society is required to provide, anything that falls beyond this is socially unjust, and the environmental ceiling where all human actions must fall under to prevent environmental destruction. This alternative economic framework aims to develop indictors and mechanisms that value domestic labour and nature’s abundance to create a socially just and ecologically respectful society.

Feminist Research

Since the radical feminist movement of the 1970s and 80s, feminism has been incorporated into the more formal academic research field. The core values of Feminist Research practice (FRP) aims to challenge the hierarchal structure of knowledge creation within patriarchal thought, believing this to have created much of our current capitalist, neoliberal governance and social organisation (Cancian 1992). FRP is very often participatory including marginalised communities and valuing lived experiential knowledge. FRP believes that all knowledge is situated and embodied, and therefore partial (Haraway 2003). A key research method used by feminist research has been ‘consciousness raising’ group work, women who come together to discuss ideas and experiences channelling their knowledge into one social position or ‘standpoint’ (Swigonski 1993), building a resilience and collective strength to marginalised voices. Maria Mies observes that within the Feminist movement ‘practice came before theorizing’, there were no books or theories to justify why women were oppressed, exploited and paid less than men (Mies 2014: 4).

Gender equality

The drive for gender equality has received many criticisms; the main rhetoric is that women and men have biological differences that lead them to develop different value systems and vocations. ‘The claim that women and men have fundamental natural differences may undercut arguments for social and political gender equality’ (Navin 2015) Biological sex difference cannot be the final word on striving for gender equity. We talk about inclusion and empowerment as if this is the solution to gender, sex and race discrimination. Why are we working to ‘include’ when the system is inherently exploitative?

Andrew Brennan provides this insight ‘domination of women by men is historically the original form of domination in human society, from which all other hierarchies—of rank, class, and political power—flow’. Therefore ‘human exploitation [and manipulation] of nature may be seen as a manifestation and extension of the oppression of women’ (Brennan 2002).

Beatrix Campbell introduced the concept of neo-patriarchy, defined by the capitalist neoliberal systems that create and reinforce gender polarisation, often justifying violence against women and male dominance. ‘Violence is not unthinking, visceral, primitive; it is produced by, and is productive of, power and control over land, riches and people.’ (Campbell, 2014: N.A) Violence and power is not a default masculine, it is a behavioural narrative we have created and continue to enact.

Furthermore, in Caroline Criado-Perez’s book Invisible Women she writes about the gender data gap that has created this notion of the ‘default male’ in many aspects of our society. Women’s experience and perspective is often excluded from the picture. The post war era is one of these examples, coined as the ‘golden era’ for productivity growth. In reality, this post war boom was fuelled by women who would have previously been spending their productive hours on housework (cooking and making clothes) was being transferred to the quantifiable economic output of GDP. ‘Productivity hadn’t gone up it had just shifted, from the invisibility of the feminised sphere, to the sphere that counts: the male dominated public sphere.’ (Criado-Perez, 2019:242) Criado-Perez believes that capitalism relies on exploiting women- behind every paid worker there is a woman carrying out unpaid domestic responsibilities.

Throughout history, across the world, there has been an unrelenting bias taking place. This has resulted in a gender data gap and crucial lack of understanding about women’s involvement, and connection to, natural resource management as well as their contribution to farming, food systems and economic growth.

Margaret Alston’s paper Women in Agriculture: The ‘New Entrepreneurs’, offers an Australian narrative to explore the idea of this data gap

‘In the 1890s, it was determined that women working in ‘unwomanly’ occupations such as farming and mining should not be recorded in official census statistics. With such extraordinary logic, women working in agriculture and other ‘unwomanly pursuits’ were removed from the census.’ (Alston, 2003: N.A.)

It is vital we become more deliberative in designing in a more-than-male perspective within our economic values and our systems approach to agriculture and natural resource management. To not just presume that one perspective provides adequate understanding but to gather information from all standpoints- respecting gender, race, class and nationality positions.

The Future for Economics

How do we develop a more holistic economic format that not only values nature’s abundance, but also incorporates the standpoint of marginalised groups? Figure 1 depicts the Doughnut economics model; the social foundation and environmental ceiling thresholds create the middle zone, known as the doughnut, representing the safe and just space for humanity to thrive.

Figure 1: Raworth 2017. Doughnut Economics

Raworth comments on GDP; it ‘became the overriding target for economic policy, so much so that governments, businesses and financial markets came to expect, demand and depend upon it never ending’ (Raworth 2017) The 2008 global financial crash has exposed the system’s flawed logic; we need to value strength in connection and diversity, over infinite expansion.

The philosophy that Doughnut economics encourages is one of interconnectedness, embodying an ecology of care. In response to the Covid-19 crisis Amsterdam has committed to using this form of economic framework to allow the city to regenerate after the pandemic. They began with the question; ‘How can our city be a home to thriving people in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet’. Four areas emerged to approach the doughnut model on a city scale. See Figure 2

Figure 2: Raworth 2020. When the Doughnut meets Biomimicry

These focus areas must include conversations around gender, race, and class if we are to comprehensively explore and find solutions for people and planet to thrive on a local and global scale. To quote Kate Raworth: ‘we have economies that need to grow whether or not they make us thrive, what we need is economies that make us thrive whether or not they grow’ (Raworth 2017)

Final thoughts

The aim of this piece of writing was to explore the idea that capitalism has been created by patriarchal thought, and because GDP only recognises capital-creating forms of activity it is inherently sexist in the value system it represents and perpetuates. GDP has also driven the exploitation of our natural resources for financial gain. We exclusively use this one financial figure to gauge the success of an economy, overlooking the richness created by human society and natural ecosystems. Approaching decision making, not just within economics but also for many aspects of our society, with the Doughnut concept as a guiding framework enables us to develop the appropriate indicators to record and quantify social connection and domestic labour, as well as mechanisms that value nature’s abundant diversifying processes.

References Figure 2: Raworth 2020. When the Doughnut meets Biomimicry

Alston, M (2003) ‘Women in Agriculture: The New Entrepreneurs’ Australian Feminist Studies [online] 163-171. Available from [4 April 2020] Brennan, A (2002) Environmental ethics: Feminism and the Environment [online] available from < environmental/#FemEnv> [30 April 2020] Campbell, B (2014) ‘After neoliberalism: the need for a gender revolution’ Soundings [online] (56) 10-26. Available from DOI: 10.3898/136266214811788736 [22 April 2020] Cancian, F (1992) ‘Feminist Science: Methodologies that Challenge Inequality’ Gender and Society [online] 6 (4), 623-642. <> [30 April 2020] Criado-Perez, C (2019) Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. London: Penguin Random House Haraway, D (2003) ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilidge of Partial Perspective’. in Turning Points in Qualitative Research: Tying Knots in a Handkerchief. Ed. by Lincoln, Y, S. & Denzin, N, K. Oxford: Altamira Press, 21-46 Mies, M (2014) Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour [online] London: Zed Books. Available from < reated+capitalism+&lr=&source=gbs_navlinks_s > [28 April 2020] Navin, M (2015) ‘Food Sovereignty and Gender Justice’. In Just Food: Philosophy, Justice and Food. ed. by Dieterle, J, M. Rowman & Littlefield International ,87-100. Raworth, K (2017) 7 Ways to Think like a 21st Century Economist [online] available from <> [22 April 2020] Swigonski, M, E. (1993) ‘Feminist Standpoint Theory and the Questions of Social Work Research’ Sage Journals [online] 8 (2) 171-183. Available from <> [26 April 2020] Figures: 1. Raworth, K (2017) The Doughnut of Social and Planetary Boundaries [online] available from < Qf__DtmGoAAAAA%3A48qS5hnNEzfruqGtfpAaTfho0L1_ACFFxcunIPcDlZRWsXB VKETFWI-Oy8mKoPb9D13GujL02f2b> [4 April 2020] 2. Raworth, K (2020) When the Doughnut meets Biomimicry [online] available from <> [26 April 2020]

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