The macro-economic policies underlying globalisation exacerbate female inequality. The ‘hegemonic masculinity’ of global capitalism and corporate non-responsibility have informalised and exploited female labour. Moreover, gendered migrant labour reproduces a gendered and racialised order, which disadvantages women.
Whilst I consider ‘women’ as individuals with a configuration of intersecting identities, rather than a monolith, I believe that globalisation is bad for women overall, on either side of the North/South divide, and particularly those from ethnic minorities and lower socio-economic spheres. In order to explore this issue further, I employ Peterson’s dual understanding of globalisation as both a continuation of the ‘capitalist racialised patriarchy’ that characterises modernity and a new conjecture constituted by neo-liberal policies since the 1970s.
The concept of feminisation is important for understanding the uneven effects of globalisation on men and women. The devalorisation of the feminine, and all things considered so, produces processes of exploitation and violence against feminised concepts. Globalisation and the pursuit of profit has resulted in the ‘feminisation of employment’ with respect to the increased number of women in work and the deterioration of labour conditions, income and employment status. This has resulted in the overall degradation of women’s work as subjective, voluntary, unskilled and poorly paid or not paid at all.
Transnational competition has forced domestic capitalists to cut labour costs in order to increase productivity, with multinational corporations relocating production to the global South in search of cheaper wages. In the global North, women of colour are disproportionately impoverished by the relocation of well-paid jobs due to a legacy of racialised gender inequality. A rise in ‘McJobs’, or low-paid positions lacking in benefits, and reductions in minimum wage are the result of this repositioning. In the global South, poor working-class women fulfil the low-wage labour demands of multinational corporations that establish production in areas with weak labour laws. Globally, labour has become increasingly ‘flexible’ with the expansion of informal sectors, temporary and self-employment or a ‘feminisation’ of labour.
Capitalist workplaces are built around hidden assumptions of a separation of reproduction and production. Neo-liberal capitalism is characterised by a division between the masculinised and productive ‘monetary’ economy and the feminised and reproductive ‘non-monetary’ economy. The process of capital accumulation renders reproductive survival needs invisible, assuming informal economic activity to be in unlimited supply. Consequently, women are subordinated in both spheres, being responsible for reproductive labour in the ‘private’ sphere and holding a marginalised position in the productive economy.
Although women have increasingly participated in the labour market since the 1970s, this period has seen a deterioration of the material conditions of life for poorer women globally, as a result of macro-economic policies of privatisation, deregulation and structural adjustment. The flexibilisation of labour has seen the creation of feminised jobs that are temporary, part-time, and precarious. Cutbacks in social welfare have increased poverty for women, who are more reliant on social programs due to their burden of caring. In the global North, ethnic minorities and the working class have suffered from reduced public spending – in Britain, 86% of the burden of austerity since 2010 has fallen on women. In the global South, cuts to public health have seen increases in maternal mortality and school dropout rates for girls.
Structural adjustment programs (SAP) imposed on the global South as a form of international debt repayment by International Financial Institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, have forced women to take up additional productive and reproductive labour to survive austerity. Higher prices, reductions in government food subsidies and the devaluation of local currencies have disproportionately affected urban-poor and working-class women and disrupted the education of young girls. In Nicaragua, for instance, macro-economic gains achieved by a SAP, including a drop in inflation and increase in exports, also caused a rise in infant and maternal mortality, malnutrition, poverty and unemployment.
Neo-liberal capitalism’s neglect of the reproductive economy has prompted a commodification of the immigrant labour of Southern women. This ‘maid-trade’ – the employment of immigrant women from the global South to fulfil the domestic needs of the global North – has become a resource, upon which the centres of transnational business in ‘global cities’ depend. Immigrant labour, which frees Western women from their domestic ‘duties’, also exempts men from domestic responsibilities and relieves states’ pressure to support the reproductive economy, instead exploiting the racialised inequality of Southern women. Although foreign domestic work can be an important source of remittances for Southern countries, immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable to employer intimidation and abuse. In Britain, the domestic workers of wealthy Gulf families have faced conditions of slavery and trafficking. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was introduced to protect migrant workers from exploitative employers, however the UK government’s measures to date have failed to significantly reduce levels of abuse.
To conclude, the ‘hegemonic masculinity’ of neo-liberal capitalism, rooted in the ‘racialised patriarchy’ of colonialism, reproduces female inequality in its neglect of the non-monetary economy and feminisation of women’s labour. Prioritising profit over reproductive needs and rendering domestic work invisible, marginalises women in the global North and South as they are simultaneously devalued in the productive economy and carry the burden of reproductive labour and caring.
Isla Wilson is active in the field of gender equality, and holds a Masters degree in International Relations.