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United Nations
Division for the Advancement of Women

Workshop

Beijing + 5 - Future actions and initiatives

Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
United Nations House
Beirut (Lebanon)
8 to 10 November 1999
DAW Working Paper

ENGAGING IN GLOBALIZATION:

IMPLICATIONS FOR GENDER RELATIONS

Introduction

The 20th Century ends as the world moves towards a new era characterized by a globally integrated economy, where decisions regarding production consumption and other aspects of social relations increasingly includes transnational dimensions. Forces of globalization are real and their influences are felt everywhere. It entails free trade, free mobility of both financial and real capital, and rapid diffusion of products, technologies, information and consumption patterns. As indicated in the 1999 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, in the age of globalization, Governments’ policy choices have shifted in favour of openness of trade and financial flow. Policies calling for lighter regulation of industry, privatization of state-owned enterprises and lower public spending have characterized the programmes of governments around the world. Liberalization policies coupled with technological advances in communications accelerated the impact of economic integration, thus eroding conventional boundaries particularly that of the national state.

In many instances, governments proceeded with deregulation without the introduction of new forms of regulation to ensure the observance of social protection and provisioning of needs. This increased the risks of globalization for many social groups. Recent studies such as UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report (1997) and the UNDP’s Human Development Reports (1997 and 1999) suggest that economic growth fostered by recent liberalization policies can be accompanied by increased inequality and a decline in living standards. As the East Asian crisis has revealed, failures in financial markets can cause severe dislocations in the real economy around the globe.

The Survey also points out that the cultural, political and social correlates of increasing international integration has also been profound. Populations around the world are being familiarized through economic exchanges and exposure to advertising, the media and tele-communications, to a culture of instant gratification through material consumption. Additionally, globalization is tied to momentous political changes of the present era such as the rise of identity politics, transnational civil society, new forms of governance and universalization of human rights.

The World Bank Shaping the 21st Century. World Development Report (1999/2000) draws attention to the strong reactions provoked by globalization, both positive and negative. According to this report globalization is praised for the opportunities it brings, such as access to markets and technology transfer, but it is also feared and condemned because of the instability and risks that can accompany it. Foreign investment and international competition can help poor economies to modernize, increase their productivity and raise living standards. At the same time, it can threaten the livelihoods of workers , it can undermine banks, and it can destabilize whole economies when flows of foreign capital overwhelm them. The globalization process thus offers opportunities, as well as challenges for human development and gender equality.

Globalization and its impact on gender equality

The significant gender differences and disparities with respect to decision-making powers, participation, and returns for effort that prevail in different societies need to be taken into account when responding to the forces of globalization. Because of gender inequalities and discrimination in all parts of the world, women can be affected negatively by globalization processes to a greater extent than men. On the other hand, there can be significant gains for women with globalization. It is necessary to systematically monitor the gender impact of change so that the goals of gender equality and the expansion of human capabilities are not sacrificed.

The relationship between globalization and gender equality, and the relevance of globalization for transforming gender relations has been increasingly well documented. The Survey is a major contribution towards applying a gender perspective to the analysis of the globalization. While the survey focuses on the labour market participation within the changing world of work, further research is needed to assess the impact of globalization on other aspects of life.

At the policy level, the impact of globalization on women and gender relations continues to be neglected nationally and internationally. Entities of the United Nations system are taking steps to integrate the goals of macro-economics with those of social development. Yet more remains to be done to integrate gender equality dimensions in their normative, policy and operational work so as to ensure the continuing leadership of the system in promoting gender equality, development and peace within the context of globalization. The Beijing + 5 process provides an opportunity to reflect on the impact of globalization in determining further actions and initiatives for the full implementation of the Beijing commitments

Towards this end, the remainder of the paper attempts to raise awareness with regard to gender impact of globalization in select areas.

Globalization and the labour market

The extension of the market can have both positive and negative effects for women’s situation and gender relations. Positive effects may include increased employment opportunities for women in non traditional sectors, thus enabling them to earn and control income. This is potentially empowering and may contribute to enhancing women’s capacity to negotiate their role and status within the household and society. Negative effects can include increased exploitation and dependency on direct engagement with the market, and particularly on the vagaries of the market.

In the past two decades, the relocation of labour intensive industries from advanced market economies to middle income developing economies has increased employment of women in the latter. Even though female employment remains concentrated mainly in low skill sectors and the gender wage gap shows no signs of disappearing, the rapid increase in the female labour force participation rate has a considerable positive effect on women’s economic well being and that of their families. Nevertheless, the issue of the poor conditions under which many women enter the labour market needs to be consistently raised. The problem is particularly acute in sweatshops in the informal sector, which through arrangements such as sub-contracting and outsourcing became an integral part of the formal economy and have experienced an explosive growth in recent years.

In the developed countries, on the other hand, as industries relocate elsewhere in search of cheaper labour and production, labour demand has been shifting towards relatively high-skill manufacturing, while employment growth in traditionally low skill sectors such as relatively low-skill sectors in textiles and apparel, where women workers predominate, has been declining.

The impact of these trends as observed, in both developing and developed countries, on gender relations is still not too clear. Evidence from around the world on women’s labour market participation and gender inequalities (e.g. wage gap, power relations, etc.) is still mixed. Clearly this is an area requiring further research.

Globalization and trade in services

For many countries, trade could be the primary vehicle for realizing the benefits of globalization. Trade policies affect employment, production, distribution and consumption patterns, cultural values, social relations and the environment, all of which engage and affect women as well as men.

Increases in world trade, particularly in the services, has increased the involvement of women in the various occupations and professions of the services sector. Women around the world have made impressive inroads into professional services such as law, banking, accounting, and computing; in tourism related occupations; and in the information services, including offshore airline booking, mail order, credit cards, word-processing for publishers, telephone operators, and so on. The word-trade in services also favours women’s labour migration in contrast to the demand for male labour in manufacturing industries during earlier periods of industrialization in Europe and United States. The ageing population in the developed countries and the corresponding decline in the state provision of welfare services indicate that the demand for female labour from the countries of the south as care gives will continue to be on the rise in the years to come.

Globalization and governance

Integration of national economies into the global economy are increasingly shifting the formulation and implementation of policy away from local and national levels to the international level. Increased shift of governance to the international arena may undermine the modernist notion of citizenship, which over the years provided the women's movement with a strong ground for advancing their civil identity and claims for equal rights vis--vis the sovereign state. New actors above (global) and below (local) the national state are now asserting alternative identities and roles for women, thus fragmenting their political citizenship.

At the same time, however, globalization is generating an unprecedented understanding that economic and social rights are part of the international human rights discourse. Similarly, the growing force of international women’s movement and their influence over the intergovernmental processes are empowering women and creating space for women’s organizations at the national and local levels to grow.

Globalization and poverty

The Survey shows that under conditions of globalization the limits on the states ability to provide social protection, provisioning of needs and human capital investments has become more strained. This poses a major challenge to poverty eradication programmes and the efforts to respond to the needs of the less visible segments of the population especially women and children, in responding to their right to basic services and development of their capabilities .

The withering away of the welfare state and increasing cost of social services has constituted a uniformly negative outcome for poor women, in developed and developing countries alike. The shift of societal costs of reproduction and maintenance of labour power and other welfare provisions from the public sector to a sphere where these costs are no longer visible, i.e. the household, is made possible by increasing women’s workload within the household.

The shock of market fluctuations, yet another immediate impact of integration into global markets with intensifying effects on poverty, are also absorbed by poor women by working harder both inside and outside the household. In many instances, women combine home making and piece working with reproductive activities in the household and rely more extensively on the use of children’s labour for domestic work, households production and cash earnings.

By and large, the adjustment costs associated with economic restructuring in many countries have increased the economic hardship for the poor. The human damage caused by economic deprivation in terms of one’s capabilities and future prospects in life, is greatest for those who are least prepared to withstand it, i.e. poor women. In the long run, the impact of the shifting and adjustment costs onto society’s most vulnerable groups results in disinvestment in human capabilities with far reaching effects on society at large.

Globalization and migration

Emerging global trends are also significantly altering the spatial and cross-border flows of labour. Globalization has created labour demand patterns which inherently favour short-term, temporary employment. As a result, a short-term contracted labour migration appears to be on the rise with distinct gender differentiated consequences. Women, whose labour has low opportunity cost in the market and who are socially considered to be flexible labour are entering into new labour engagements more so than ever before. While migration may improve women’s life chances, migrant women in some parts of the world are increasingly victim to trafficking, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Due to the lack of effective international mechanisms that regulate and protect the rights of labour moving across national borders both legal and illegal migrants are vulnerable to human rights abuses.

  • Globalization and technological change

Due to the expanding reach of new communication technologies the use of technology for the empowerment of women has been impressive. For example, many women world-wide are making effective use of Internet and e-mail for development purposes such as networking, advocacy, dissemination and exchange of information, and creative e-commerce initiatives designed to help local artisans and producers market their products globally. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that millions of the world’s poorest women and men still do not have access to these facilities. Issues such as cost, locational bias, and time constraints pose impediments to the diffusion of these technologies. Mechanisms need to be developed to avoid new forms of exclusion and isolation.

Employment opportunities in information processing work – particularly in the services sector – have opened up novel opportunities in some developing countries, for women as well as men. Telematics-related distance work likewise represents new opportunities since it offers a wide range of modes of working, from home-based teleworking to employment in telecentres or telecottages. These modes of working offer flexibility in location and hours of employment and thus can overcome some of the constraints facing women.

Concluding remarks

The objective of this paper was to explore into the impact of emerging global trends on the situation of women and on gender relations within the context of select areas of concern. It does not , therefore, claim to be a comprehensive discussion. The underpinnings of the above discussion emphasizes the need to sustain the global gender agenda, that is well rooted in the four world conferences on women as well as all the global conferences of the 1990's, to balance the economic agenda of globalizing market forces for women in both developing as well as developed countries.

The massive entry of women into the workforce around the world coincides with the political mobilization of women and the expansion of women’s organizations of all types. The sentiments behind this growing force are well captured in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and in the Beijing Platform for Action. Safeguarding the gains made in the area of gender equality and further advancing in the full implementation of the Beijing commitments remain to be central to the goals of the gender agenda at national and international levels.

It must be borne in mind that investment in human capabilities enhances the growth potential of an economy, disinvestment lowers it. The 1999 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development argues that, national economies must be capable of continually adjusting themselves to the changing conditions of the world economy in this regard before they can reap the economic benefits associated with globalization. The challenge for the Beijing + 5 process and the agents of gender equality, development and peace at national and international levels, then, is to establish new alliances and develop new modalities towards building an inclusive global society where the twin goals of economic growth and the expansion of human capabilities, as contained in Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, are tackled in tandem.