Globalization and Gender Differences

There has been a change in the place of women in society over recent years. Take, for example, the change in the traditional roles of women and the apparently increased participation of women in the labour force. This change is not always appreciated when inspecting global statistics. For instance, the latest World Development Report from the World Bank shows only a marginal increase in female participation in the labour force (39% to 40%) in the last 20 years, although regions such as Latin America showed a 7% increase for that period. However, women who do part-time or occasional jobs might not be considered as part of the labour force, distorting the real composition of that force.

In the UK, for example, as many women are in paid employment as men, though the jobs carried out by women are still less well paid [67]. Women also are more likely to work part-time. This increase in employment rates by women has been accompanied by an increase in the number of two-worker households. This has contributed in quite a major way to the increase in household income inequality in the UK and presumably in other developed countries [55]. A much larger proportion of households have no earners and have very low income, while a substantial proportion of double-income households are much better off.

It is difficult to know what has influenced these changes. Globalization as a process would be expected to enlarge the size of markets, increase competition and lead to a higher value for scarce resources. Women with skills, it could therefore be argued, would be taken into the workforce at the expense of men without those skills. The tendency for the growth in service industries in developed countries might also have encouraged female employment, as many "old economy" manufacturing jobs were traditionally carried out by men.

However, globalization has also meant that a larger and cheaper workforce is needed. Attracting foreign investment usually means relaxing the rules and weakening laws protecting workers. Women and children are used to meet these requirements. In many countries mothers are drawn into the workforce but no facilities are available at which to leave their children, adding to the stress of carrying a triple burden: productive, reproductive, and caring. A mother of five children who wakes before dawn to fix breakfast before going to work in a sweatshop making jeans and then has to cook dinner is unlikely to have energy or time left for anything else. Family and marital problems are left to brew for the coming day. In most countries women are not treated as well as men, and the negative impact of globalization might be more noticeable among women.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of research in this field particularly from less developed countries, partly explained by the heavy emphasis put by agencies on funding only reproductive health research. As a recent paper from Ghana shows [68], women thought their psychosocial problems were the most important and these were connected to heavy workloads, lack of support, financial insecurity, and the care of children. In the context of globalization, the relationship between gender and socio-economic status appears inextricably linked.

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