North-South Co-operation || The Globalisation of the Economy: An International Gender Perspective

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    The Globalisation of the Economy: An International Gender PerspectiveAuthor(s): Wendy HarcourtSource: Focus on Gender, Vol. 2, No. 3, North-South Co-operation (Oct., 1994), pp. 6-14Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Oxfam GBStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 01:21

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  • 6

    Women and Poverty: making the Global Links

    The globalisation

    of the economy

    an international gender perspective

    Wendy Harcourt

    T he current global economic crisis is characterised by growing poverty worldwide, great and growing

    inequality of income, rising unemp- loyment, debt and negative growth in many countries, and worsening urban and rural pollution and environmental degradation. Linked to these factors are increasing food prices, declining standards of health and education due to reduced spending on services, and social and cultural dislocation (Kaldor 1986).

    Since the 1980s, global deregulation allowing the private sector to expand without restriction - has been the dominant principle in the restructuring of the industrialised nations. The restruc- turing and globalisation of the financial system, the transnationalisation of production and the spread of neo-liberal ideas are reflected in the growth of economic strategies such as high-tech industry, transnational, off-shore, and home-based production, 'flexible' prod- uction, and a rapid growth in the service sector (Marchand 1994, 64).

    This article argues that 'free trade', which guarantees the free movement of goods and capital, may have allowed for an acceleration of economic growth and

    economic interdependence among market economies in developed countries, but this has happened at the expense of an economic crisis in countries which have not benefited from such uneven growth. This has had a particularly acute impact on poor women, who are marginalised in the world economy. Although it is important to remember that different women's experiences are 'the outcome of different sets of interactions among patriarchal, class, racial, ethical, and spatial relations' (Pearson 1986, 93), gender is a critical determinant in the degree and manner in which economic and other forces affect different groups.l

    The effects of deregulation are particularly acute in countries of the East and South. In general, while Central and Eastern European countries are struggling with the impact of a radical economic and political transition, the less-developed countries of the South are burdened by debt, depletion in resources caused by poverty, inequality and environmental problems, and 'aid fatigue' after 40 years of 'development' initiatives.

    The current trends which are restructuring industry and employment towards service sectors, casual, and part-

    Focus on Gender Vol 2, No. 3, October 1994

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  • The globalisation of the economy 7

    time and out work, might appear to be beneficial to women. But this article will argue that because traditional economics ignore the importance of women's work in the home, community, and informal sectors, economic development policies are rarely structured to encompass women's socio-economic reality and are more usually exploitative than beneficial.

    Finally, in addition to discussing how the larger processes of the global economy have in general affected women in each region in terms of securing resources, income, and employment, as well as on the sexual division of labour, this paper acknowledges the 'great endurance, courage and resourcefulness of women, especially poor qualities which have enabled them to cope with the harshness of their lives and to survive with dignity' (Bunch and Camillo 1990, 77). Currently, women as individuals and groups are analysing their situation and actively seeking to change it. Women's organisations from the different regions are increasingly joining together to form international women's networks,2 to pool their particular regional experience of the global economic system. Ultimately, by making these links they aim to change the system and empower themselves and other women.

    Feminist approaches to economics Men have been the dominant group which has determined the shape and direction of society's techno-economic order (Mitter 1993, 103). Traditional economic analysis ignores reproductive roles, while economic policy defines the majority of women not as major contributors to the economy but as disposable cheap labour, offering different (less remunerable) skills from men, and adaptable to part-time, casual, and temporary work.

    Economists who incorporate a gender

    analysis to their work assert that women's greater exploitation in the global capitalist system, and their higher labour burden in the home, are due to their lack of power. Women typically lack access to institutions which decide economic policy, produce economic statistics, and promote techno- logical innovation. Finally, women's role in reproduction (bearing and caring for children, and caring for other family members) limits their formal employment possibilities, and this reproductive work is absent from economic statistics. Feminist economists (Picchio 1994, Elson 1993, Folbre 1993, Tickner 1992) propose a gender-aware economic analysis where women's reproductive activities are recognised as being as important as production, since they, too, form a contribution to the economy.

    Feminists argue that the assumption of neo-liberal economists, that 'man' is competitive and individualist, could not be made if women's experiences of work were taken into account. Placing reproduction on a par with production means revaluing child-bearing and care-giving roles. This would redefine economic goals towards an ethic of care and responsibility, and away from the excessive focus on the ever- expanding production of commodities. This view is beginning to have an impact on development policy.3

    The awareness by development institutions that 'women's work is not infinitely elastic', and that there is a breaking point where women cannot continue to sustain the development process through their reproductive work, 'acknowledges the fact that the relationship between production and reproduction is not only a women's problem but the fundamental problem of the the North as well as in the South' (Picchio, 1994,8).

    Picchio argues that the role of carer which women take on in most societies cannot mechanically adjust to the global

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  • 8 Focus on Gender

    restructuring and subsequent changes occurring in regional and national production markets. She warns that the persistent marginalisation of gender issues by economic theory has to be addressed not by adding in a gender variable or recognising women as social agents, but by changing the whole analytical framework usod by economists. She argues that this framework 'is incapable of recognising structural relationships and social conflicts and ...systematically hides the costs of social production of male and female labour' (Picchio, 1994, 16).

    It is critical to emphasise that the region in which a woman lives is just one of the many variables which will determine her experience. For example, poor Algerian women in France may share working conditions with women in the South, whereas the ability to pay another woman to perform child-care duties is not confined to women in the West but is shared by upper- and middle-class women all over the world. Thus, the geographical headings used below should be treated as imperfect guides to the social and political complex- ities of the global system of labour relations in the different regions (Jacquette, 1990).

    Western Europe Western Europe is currently experiencing crises of state bankruptcy and welfare deficits as public provision in the West has become more unreliable and the global scale of capitalism has become more complex. The years of post-Second World War expansion, marked by a strong role for the state both in directing the economy and in welfare provision, were a period of relative affluence. This metamorphosed into a consumer culture in which the free market was the major organising force, but these years now appear to be finished (European Journal of Women's Studies, 1994: 7).

    Women in Western Europe women have benefited from a greater access to



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