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Women and Globalization

Women in factoryGlobalization & 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

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Cutting costs (and women)
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 Story.

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

Calcutta, IndiaLess work in the office, more work at home
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.

Woman sewingReducing 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.

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.

Women's nimble fingers
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.

Women in factoryWhat union?
Unions 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 unionized.

Tuition rising
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.

Roma, Lesotho, AfricaTo learn more
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.

1 Progress of World’s Women 2005: Women, Work & Poverty. Dowloaded October 21, 2010.
2 Progress of the World's Women 2000. UNIFEM Biennial Report.
3 Canadian Labour Congress. "Women's Work: A Report." 1997.
4 Dorothy Inglis. Bread and Roses. St. John's, Newfoundland: Killick Press, 1996.
5 Women in Canada: Work Chapter Updates by Marcia Almey. Statistics Canada, 2007. Downloaded December 16, 2010.
6 Employment Insurance: It Doesn’t Add Up for Women! Factsheet. Downloaded December 16, 2010
7 Tallying the Cost of Post-Secondary Education: The Challenge of Managing Student Debt and Repayment in Canada. Canadian Council on Learning, 2010. Downloaded December 16, 2010
8 Women's Global March 2000. Women and Unemployment Insurance. Fact sheet.

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