1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009)

Globalization, Export-oriented Industrialization, Female Employment and Equity in East Asia (Draft)

It is often claimed that the rapid growth in East Asia in recent decades has been due to export-oriented manufacturing growth, which is often attributed to open economic policies. Hence, it is argued that economic globalization, which should accelerate international economic integration, will encourage export-oriented industrialization and related manufacturing employment. Such processes are also expected to enhance women’s position within the economy. The assumption behind this last assertion seems to be that with export growth (which is supposed to be facilitated by trade liberalization) the demand for female labour increases faster than for male labour, so that female wages also rise faster than male wages, and eventually converge. These trends are presumed to eliminate labour market rigidities and remove the institutional foundations for gender-based discrimination in labour markets. Thus, globalization is supposed to improve the condition of women by creating manufacturing employment opportunities for them while eliminating gender discrimination in labour markets.

This paper challenges this picture at several levels. After critically reviewing economic dimensions of globalization in part 1, the paper goes on to argue in part 2 that East Asian industrialization has been decisively advanced by appropriate government interventions. It will show that selective interventions, or industrial policy, have been crucial, especially for the greater Northeast Asian successes in developing indigenous industrial capacities and capabilities. Protection conditional on export promotion has enabled import-substituting infant industries to become internationally competitive export-oriented industries. Part 2 also looks more closely at industrial employment in the region by gender. Gender discrimination in the region’s labour markets seems to have survived economic liberalization, with the large gender wage gaps characteristic of the region not closing despite rapid growth and full employment. The final part of the paper (Part 3) argues that the changing international economic governance associated with the current phase of globalization is likely to constrain further ‘late industrialization’ efforts and limit the economic welfare gains associated with the rapid growth of manufacturing employment in the East Asian region in the second half of the twentieth century.

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