1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development

Globalization, Export-Oriented Employment for Women and Social Policy

  • Project from: 2000 to 2002


This project seeked to understand the relationship between increasing globalization of production, women's labour market participation, and social policy design and delivery. More specifically, it examined how far changes in a wide range of social provisions have responded to the new circumstances of women's increased labour force participation in a number of countries, and the extent to which increased employment by women has been a response to changes (negative or positive) in social policy design and delivery.

Over the past two decades many developing country governments have come under pressure to reduce the role and the capacity of the state to finance and deliver social services, and to restrict access to publicly provided income transfers. A parallel development in some countries has been the (intensified) pursuit of export-oriented strategies that have, on average, increased women's share of paid employment. How have these two developments interacted and to what extent have women's increased labour force participation in globally traded manufactures and commodities enhanced their entitlements to state support and guarantees of basic incomes and other benefits?

Although much of the development literature has focused on the adequacy or otherwise of the wage in meeting the commodity necessities of the daily and generational reproduction of working women and their households, the question of how such economic participation promotes access to social services, such as transport, health, education, training, and childcare facilities, has received less consideration. Little attention has been given to the non-wage benefits of employment, including unemployment insurance, sickness benefits and pensions. To what extent are entitlements to social benefits (access to services and cash transfers) based on an (increasingly rare) "male" norm of full-time, life-long (uninterrupted) participation in formal employment? How closely is women's participation in formal labour markets approaching this norm? And how are ongoing reforms of social security affecting women's entitlements to social benefits? Finally, successful industrialization strategies in Asia and elsewhere have produced not only high per capita incomes but also increases in life expectancy for both women and men (especially for women). A further significant issue is thus the way women's opportunities to earn high levels of income from formal employment are distributed over the life cycle and what benefits accrue to those women and men who increasingly live beyond the years of labour force participation. The gender implications of pension reforms carried out in the 1990s are one important aspect of this question.

A collection of papers prepared for this project will be published in Globalization, Export-Oriented Employment and Social Policy: Gendered Connections, edited by Shahra Razavi, Ruth Pearson and Caroline Danloy (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, forthcoming in 2004).

This project was coordinated by Shahra Razavi and Ruth Pearson.

Funding for the project has been provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Rockefeller Foundation.