The last three decades have seen remarkable changes in economic structures and policies both within and across countries, loosely captured by the term globalization. This paper reviews evidence on how key aspects of globalization processes have impacted the real economy, in terms of employment and social conditions of work for women and men across a wide range of countries.
Globalization has coincided with a global increase in female labour force participation rates which has narrowed the gender gap from 32 to 26 percentage points. A number of factors associated with globalization processes have contributed to this increase, including the growth of production for export in the developing world. With labour costs such a crucial part of international competitiveness, labour-intensive exporters have shown a preference for women workers because their wages are typically lower than men’s and because women are perceived as more productive in these types of jobs.
The narrowing of the gender gap in economic participation rates has not produced commensurate gender equality in pay and status. In fact, increasing female labour force participation has coincided with an increase in informal and unprotected forms of work. Jobs in export-oriented manufacturing firms and capitalist farms producing horticultural export crops have benefited some women, giving them their first discretionary income or a greater say in the allocation of household resources. However, even in the countries where production for export has created new forms of employment, occupational segregation has been maintained: the wages and conditions of work remain far from satisfactory for women who continue to be concentrated in temporary and seasonal jobs, while the few permanent jobs that are created are reserved for men.
The orthodox policy approach of tight monetary and fiscal policies, and free trade and capital flows, has not proved to be conducive for either widespread development or extensive improvements in well-being and gender equality. There is growing support for alternative macroeconomic policies that, while aiming for macroeconomic stability, take more heed of development and social goals. This would have to include monetary and fiscal policies that are more expansionary, taxation policies that provide governments with adequate revenues to fund social expenditures. If economic growth is to be broadly shared, it is necessary to introduce a set of labour market policies and related interventions that can affect working conditions in diverse employment situations. These should not only enhance the capabilities of workers to capture some of the productivity gains that are now siphoned off into profits, but also rectify gender imbalances and discriminatory practices. Second, if gender inequalities in labour markets are to be rectified, society as a whole has to seek specific means of both progressing toward a better balance between the provision of unpaid reproductive work and paid labour, and facilitating greater gender equality in both domains. For many developing countries, attaining gender equality requires strengthening publicly accountable systems of mutual assurance against entitlement failure. This means investing in well-functioning and accessible public health, education and care services that can also become a source of decent employment; broad-based and redistributive social insurance programmes; and public provision of a range of complementary goods and services such as clean water, subsidized food items, sanitation, electricity, transport and housing.
This paper was commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (Dfid) as an independent piece of research with the aim of feeding into the 2012 World Development Report
on gender equality, and informing Dfid’s own programming.
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