& Women's Work
From losing good government jobs,
to less access to unionized jobs, to being left to pick up
the slack when social services are no longer available, women
are having a tough time coping with the reality of economic
globalization. Women's experiences of both paid and unpaid
work have been affected by this growing trend. More often
than not economic globalization has led to increased workloads,
lower pay, and more stress.
As the 2005 UNIFEM report on Women Work and Poverty summarizes; “Women workers are not only concentrated in informal economy, they are in the most precarious forms of informal employment where the earnings are the most unreliable and the most meager.”1
Economic globalization has meant that many companies are cutting
costs. They are doing this by down-sizing. This means laying
off staff, reducing salaries and benefits, hiring part-time
staff as opposed to full-time, using home-based workers, laying
off older staff about to receive pensions, and giving remaining
staff increased workloads. Because women are more likely to
be at the bottom of the rung, they are often most affected.
The garment industry is one Canadian industry that has had
to squeeze itself in order to compete in the global economy,
an industry made up primarily of women. To read about one
Manitoba woman's experiences in that industry visit Samantha's
Downsizing affects women's home lives
as well. Women experience increased stress when men lose employment,
as they are forced to take on more of the financial responsibilities.
In a world where men's self-worth is often tied up in their
jobs, women with jobless husbands may well need to provide
extra emotional support. During the Asian economic crash,
"The Korean government promoted a national slogan 'Get
your Husband Energized' that called on women to help offset
the impact of the crisis on men, who on becoming unemployed
or bankrupt were subject to depression."2
public services also affects women's unpaid work as they are
forced to pick up the slack that the public sector leaves out.
Women take care of patients sent home too early from the hospital,
they find ways to teach their children things they're not learning
in school because classrooms are overcrowded and special education
services are gone, and they cook meals for older neighbours
when funding for community food programs is cut. Women also
keep families and communities stable through times of economic
uncertainty. They improvise to feed their families when money
becomes even more scarce.
The public sector has not been immune
from the trend towards corporate downsizing. Women have worked
hard for fair representation in government-funded jobs and
are strongly represented in health care, teaching, and social
work. These and other public sector jobs have long been a
source of well-paying, quality jobs for women. As the Canadian
Labour Congress reports that, "Women make up ¼
of the unionized work force in the private sector but 2/3
of the unionized workforce in public services."3
When these kinds of services are privatized or down-sized,
a disproportionate number of women lose their jobs. For example,
between 1986 and 1993, Canada Post down-sized and closed 1300
rural post offices, laying off 3000 people, 83% of whom were
women.4 Public sector
jobs also tend to be unionized. As well, affirmative action
(equal representation of women and other minorities) is harder
to achieve within the less-regulated private sector.
Women also find jobs in an even
tougher job market and are willing to work for lower pay when
that's all they can find. As a result of corporate down-sizing
and the reduction of the public sector, many women are finding
themselves in non-standard jobs - the National
Action Committee on the Status of Women reported in 1998
that 40% of women have non-standard jobs. At the same time
public programs such as unemployment insurance have diminished.
Those most affected by an increase in the number of qualifying
hours are those in part-time or temporary work – since the late 1970’s in Canada women have accounted for seven in ten part-time employees.5 Before major cuts to the EI program in Canada were implemented in the 1990’s, 70% of women qualified for EI. Today, only 32% of unemployed women qualify.6
The number of work hours necessary to receive maternity benefits has also increased.
Globalization has greatly increased
the flow of goods between countries. Many countries have reorganized
their economies in favour of export production. In some countries,
especially in Asia, Export
Processing Zones have been created to house production
facilities. Women make up much of the underpaid workforce
in these areas where regulations and labour protection laws
are relaxed or not enforced in order to attract foreign investors.
Women's nimble fingers are in high demand as vegetable packers
in Mexico, garment workers in China, and cotton harvesters
in Egypt. These are all industries characterized by low wages,
and poor working conditions including long hours, lack of
safety standards, and barriers to workers organizing.
have always worked hard to protect women in the workplace.
Unionized women earn a wage much closer to that of their male
counterparts than do non-unionized women. Unions also help
workers who face sexual harassment and other workplace hazards
and can bargain for benefits like child care. Many of the
jobs lost in Canada have been unionized ones, while jobs created
through economic globalization tend to be non-unionized. Home
work and contract work is not usually unionized and few jobs
in the boom industries in less-industrialized countries are
Education is one of the most crucial
factors that allow women to compete as equals in the professional
world and to earn an income of their own. Women with degrees
earn significantly more than their counterparts without degrees.
However, cuts to education and training have made education
less accessible. Millions of dollars have been cut from education
budgets in Canada over the past decade. The cost of tuition
has risen and grant programs have been eliminated. As the Canadian Council on Learning Reports, “Between 1990 and 2000, the average debt for a university graduate more than doubled. By 2009, the average debt for university graduates was $26,680, while the average for college graduates was $13,600.”7 Because
women still earn less, they pay back their debts more slowly.
The Canadian government eliminated the National Training Act
including training programs geared to women.8
Education and training are especially difficult for women
with young children as child care services are often inadequate.
While economic globalization has created huge stresses
for women, a globalized world offers women opportunities to
share ideas for action and change. The Women & Economy
website is one example. It is accessed by women all over
the world and gives us the opportunity to learn from each
other and to see that we are not alone in our struggles. For
more information on women, work, and globalization and to
learn from women around the world visit these sites:
Thanks to Nancy Buchanan for providing some of the background
information for this article.
Globalization & Women's Work