The rapid formation of a female labor force across the globe over the past decades is a result of neoliberal policies creating the need for low-cost manufacturing (Beneria 2003). Since the late 1970s, there has been a documented preference for women workers in export-oriented industries relying on low-cost production for global markets (Beneria 2003, 77). Transnational corporations take advantage of women through temporary contracts, part-time work, and unstable working conditions. “These conditions are at the heart of low-cost production for global markets and are tied to the volatility of global capital’s mobility in search of the lowest cost location” (Beneria 2003, 78).
Neoliberal market capitalism creates conditions that foster abundant cheap labor, heavily relying on the women of LLC’s. Globalization has intensified these trends over time. This phenomenon has posed interesting questions about how gender constructions and traditions are breaking down and adapting to economic change (Beneria 2003). Is globalization creating a more fruitful social and economic climate for women or is globalization fed by inequality?
Many scholars observe globalization creating positive effects for women across the globe. Globalization opens up more employment opportunities to women, especially in developing countries. Multinational corporations (MNCs) tend to employ more female workers across economic sectors than domestic firms (Wang 2018, 1045). This increase in jobs can benefit the economy of the country. Some multinational corporations (MNCs) offer better salaries regardless of gender, implement equal pay for equal work policy, and provide safer working conditions. This however is not the case for many companies who employ exploitative practices on women workers. Overall, the growing number of women in economic sectors strengthens their ability to organize and negotiate which in turn improves their treatment in workplace (Wang 2018, 1045).
The feminization of the labor force has taken place even in countries where women’s participation in paid work was traditionally low and socially unacceptable (Beneria 2003, 82). This shows that social changes are underway including breaking up of patriarchal traditions like arranged marriages that limit individual autonomy and the liberation from divisions of labor (Beneria 2003). This liberation brought by social change promotes gender equality in many sectors of life. Social globalization exposes people to diverse societal configurations their values tend to change such that they are more tolerant of others, concerned with individual autonomy and self-expression and less supportive of traditional institutions and hierarchic authority. The multilevel analysis done by Pazit shows that a country’s level of social globalization has a positive effect on individual support for gender equality (Pazit 2017).
Trade and international economic activity brought about by globalization can create forces that impower women. Women in the developing world reap benefits from emerging trade-related job opportunities. Economic integration via trade and the availability of technology liberates women from household work and thus reduces the opportunity cost for employment outside the home (Wang 2018).
There is also an incentive for countries to increase gender equality. Relying on the cheap labor of women is not a sustainable strategy for long-term development. When more educated women enter the workplace on the condition of equal pay for equal work, it guarantees a sufficient supply of quality labor, which helps increase that states economic competitiveness. Wang explains this phenomenon stating that “In a world where economic competition predominantly occurs at a global level—that is, in which states compete for foreign investment and overseas markets as well as against imports—both the productivity gains from empowering women and the efficiency loss from suppressing women are greater” (Wang 2018). This shows that Perpetuating discriminatory practices hurts a state’s international economic competitiveness and eventually its prospects for development.
Through a different lens however, globalization can be seen as a phenomenon that hurts women, creating an environment that halts positive change for gender equality. Neoliberal globalization has a detrimental impact on most women and their families in the global South or Third World (Lindio-McGovern 2007). It is true that the global female labor force has increased, however this is because of the growing power of transnational companies (TNC’s) and their need for low cost manufacturing (M. Steger 2017). This often causes more gender inequality. Transnational corporations globalize the world economy to maximize their profits and create economic conditions where exploitative and dehumanizing women’s labor and child labor are integrated into the global capitalist system. These conditions have either created new or perpetuated pre-existing gender, racial, and class inequities. Gender ideology is changing in these countries, exacerbating “latent and manifest patriarchal attitudes,” and leaving women vulnerable culturally and economically (Beneria 2003, 85).
In transnational capital’s ongoing search for cheaper and cheaper labor, women and children have become “targeted for global manufacturing and agro-export production” because they are stereotypically understood as more controllable than men (Lindio-McGovern 2007). An example of this exploitative consequence is with women workers in the Colombian flower export industry who are subjected to exploitive and unhealthy working conditions and a hierarchical division of labor based on gender and race or ethnicity. Another example exists in Sri Lanka’s export processing zones where there is no labor law enforcement.
Despite repressive strategies by TNC’s there is increasing collective resistance among the workers in these export sectors. An example of this is the case of the creation of national confederation of flower workers called ULTRAFLORES by Colombian flower workers in 2001. Movements like this represent the perseverance of women’s demand for labor rights. (Lindio-McGovern 2007, 286). Neoliberal structural adjustment policies (SAP’s ) have expanded the number of unemployed and increased the economic pressures on women but they have also created the conditions for collective resistance. An example of organized resistance is with the unemployed piqueteros movement in Argentina that provided resistance to neoliberal structural adjustment policies beginning in the 1990’s. Women’s participation in such movements has challenged gendered relations in the public sphere (Lindio-McGovern 2007, 287).
With regards to woman’s economic equality in LLC’s , women are often disproportionately concentrated in low-skilled and low-paying jobs so expanding female employment does not necessarily reduce the gender wage gap. For example, in the case of the “Asian tigers”, economic growth was correlated to wage gender gaps showing that growth was fed by gender inequality (Beneria 2003, 83). This raises the question of why these increasingly economically globalized states like the tiger nations are facing gender inequality.
Societies that have economic growth tend to have more exposure to other cultures, however this is not always the case. Many countries remain culturally insular despite their high flows of trade and foreign direct investment. Under such limited exposure to other ways of thinking, economic changes are less likely to transcend into enhanced economic, social and political rights for women. In the absence of encounters with alternative gender-role models, people’s social imagination is restricted by existing, norms and values. Consequently, women are unlikely to demand and men unlikely to accept women’s right to make autonomous choices that could facilitate increased women’s rights (Pazit 2017).
In his 2017 study Pazit uses Time-Series Cross-Sectional (TSCS) Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) models and the Gender Equality Scale taken from the Cingranelli–Richards Human Rights project in his analysis of 152 nations for the period 1990–2003. He found that developed economies, such as South Korea and Turkey, manifested moderate to high disparities between their economic integration with the world alongside relative cultural insularity. Meaning that despite vigorous flows of international trade and economic interaction the countries people were not exposed to cultural difference or new perspectives. In this case preference for male offspring and gender discrimination remained entrenched during the research period. (Pazit 2017).
In summation, increased employment, increased access to technology, and societal changes have been benefits to women brought about by globalization. There is also incentive for nations to promote gender equality because it promotes development. However, there are many negative impacts of globalization on women in the global south. Transnational corporation’s often exploit women of LLC’s to meet their need for low cost labor. This is causing a movement in which woman are fighting for their labor rights. This in turn creates social change that increases equality. Some areas of the world are economically globalized, yet women experience large wage disparities as well as social inequality. Pazit’s study shows that this is because these countries are not exposed to cultural difference or new perspectives. The state of women’s equality in response to globalization is a multifactorial, highly debated topic. My research shows that there is some disparity of whether or not globalization helps or harms women depending on the region and history.