SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth – A gendered analysis

Elsevier, World Development, Volume 113, 2019, Pages 368-380, ISSN 0305-750X
Shirin M. Rai, Benjamin D. Brown, Kanchana N. Ruwanpura

SDG 8 calls for promoting ‘sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’. Even as it highlights the importance of labour rights for all, it also makes visible some significant tensions. We note, for example, that despite many critiques of narrow economic measures of growth, the focus here remains on GDP and per capita growth. This is problematic, we argue, because the GDP productive boundary excludes much of social reproductive work. This puts SDG8 in tension with SDG 5 which calls for the recognition of the value of unpaid care and domestic work. There has been a significant increase in the rate of working women in the formal and informal sector. However, there has not been a subsequent gender shift in the doing of social reproductive work. In this paper we argue SDG 8’s focus on decent work and economic growth is inadequate; that productive employment and decent work for all men and women by 2030 needs to take into account the value and costs of social reproduction. We trace key historical debates on work to argue that both gender and labour rights have to underpin SDG 8 if its promise of inclusive, sustainable and decent work is to be realized.