Globalization of Production is gendered

Globalization of Production is gendered

Gender dimensions regarding the globalization of production has faced tremendous changes over the recent past. This is depicted by the changes in the patterns of global consumption, changes in global employment trends, and changes in the forms of reproduction (Carr and Chen 2004: 5). The current society is changing and the government has focused on economic growth and development. As such, there has been an increase in the number of workers both in developing and developed economies, which provides a significant implications on the way in which men and women organize their lives and work. Women’s responsibilities were primarily focused on childcare and household chores (Sudarkasa 1986: 98). However, this transformation has created immense challenges in the economy including lack of labor rights that safeguard employees, poor working conditions, and lack of time to undertake family responsibilities and household chores. Although these new challenges exist in the economy, most of the economies are characterized by gendered production.

With liberalization of production, financial markets and trade, development of agro-industries have facilitated demand for additional labor. The production patters have shifted from reliance to agriculture and most economies depend on industrial production and services. Trade expansion and growth in export-oriented production has facilitated the link between the nature of production in developed countries and the global markets. Some of the regions in which trade liberalization has taken place including the production of consumer goods with high value like wines, electronics, flowers, and garments. The commodities are sold by retailers, and they are not involved, if not little involvement, in the production process of these commodities. The commodities are outsourced by these companies through a network of suppliers that are based in other developing countries—often linked to global value chains.

The production pattern in the economy has not only been facilitated by the changes in the employment trend, but also in the gender distribution in the employment sector. The proportion of women in the employment sector has increased across the globe, but only the East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa has not reported a substantial increase (Sudarkasa 1986: 95). In most of the regions, the employment rate of women is increasing rapidly than that of men. Though such changes have been attributed to enlightenment of women in the economy, it is due to the liberalization of trade and production that has increased the number of women in the employment sector. In addition, some of the regions have been involved in manufacturing employment opportunities for women as the economy has shifted from importing commodities to exporting finished products.

According to Duncan (1996: 42), household economy can be improved when both genders are involved in the production process. The value of capital goods that are used in the production of household commodities measures the labor-intensity required in a particular household. With the changes in the economy, there is need to have high labor intensity, and this has facilitated economic expansion in a region. In addition, the economy has experienced diverse technological and transport system development, and it has changed the production system in an economy. In larger industries, the focus is on the labor force of multi-skilled workforce, though they often respond to the changes in the economic conditions through subcontracting or outsourcing services from developed economies. Competitive advantage has shifted from labor-intensive to capital-intensive technology and from the costs of labor to its quality and skills. Over the past years, it was men who were perceived to be having the required skills and education to managed the new generalized technologies, and women were subjected to smaller subcontracting firms.

With the upgrading of the production process in several existing industries across the globe, the factories of women workers will either have to adapt to the changing situation by learning to handle more automated machines or be shed off. Due to the more capital intensive and automated structure, fewer workers will be needed in each production line. Under these new circumstances women workers will face the constant threat of retrenchment due to displacement by new technological upgrading as well as the effects arising from usual vagaries in the world market. According to Sudarkasa (1986: 100), the role of women has significantly changed and they are involved in the same productive activities as their male counterparts. In the present situations of expansions by the existing industrial companies across the globe due to increasing demand for electronics products in the world market, several firms are refraining form dismissing their workers but prefer to transfer them to the additional production lines. Another factor for retaining workers is because the management realizes that, despite the trend toward automation, there still remain some tasks in the production process which are dependent on manual labor and human discretion.

Consequently, in taking stock of the situation as a whole—where the trend now is for the entry of higher technology industries which require more skilled and technically trained workers—the implications for women in terms of job opportunities are not as favorable as before. This is because unlike in the past when the nature of production process favored women workers, now most of the machines can be easily handled by men. When, previously, the industries located in offshore-sourcing areas were mainly labor intensive, hence requiring a large supply of workers, now the trend is for more capital intensive industries requiring less workers, hence providing less opportunities for unskilled women job seekers. Studies conducted in Singapore, where the trend toward industrial restructuring and entry of higher technology industries had started earlier than in Malaysia, indicate that the ratio of women to men workers in the electronics industry has declined. With the shift to higher technology, more technicians, engineers, and skilled workers, rather than unskilled workers, are required (Carr et al. 2010: 125).

The growth and expansion of production process across the globe, production has increased due to demand for the finished products (Graubart, 2000: 554). For instance, in Peru, there was demand for unlimited textile production by the colonials, and this necessitated women to be involved in production (Graubart, 2000: 554). Although technological advances were rampant across the globe, much of high-value agricultural production, including textile, remained labor-intensive, especially in the handling of produce, where female employment is concentrated. There is so far no real evidence that the proportion of employed women is declining with globalizations, though women are less often employed in the rising category of contract employment (Graubart 2000: 553). However, the extent to which women are able to gain access to the benefits of high-value agricultural exports employment largely depends on their work status, which is where gender inequity arises.

According to Chen and Carr (2004), the benefits available to permanent workers, both men and women, are relatively better than most casual or flexible forms of work. Permanent workers usually have a legal contract of employment, which gives them stability and security of work. Permanent status normally provides better wages and gives access to related benefits, such as health and social insurance and pensions. In agriculture, non-wage benefits are common in some countries, especially where workers live on the farm or estate. These can include housing childcare, social provisions and transport. Permanent workers are also more likely to enjoy the right to freedom of association, although rates of trade union membership in export agriculture are generally low. The transformation has positively and negatively affected both men and women. For instance, it has enabled women to have access to new areas characterized by paid employment, gain independence, earn income, and become socially active. This was not the norm in the traditional setting where division of labor was gender-based with women being segregated from paid employment.

The globalization of markets for manufactured goods has intensified competitive pressures to produce at lower cost with shorter lead times and increasingly differentiated product lines. These pressures have led to an increasing emphasis on flexibility in the manufacturing industries, to enhance increase in production in the short-run, facilitates rapid changes between different products and product specifications for different markets, and to do so at ever lower costs. Some of this flexibility has been achieved through technological changes which have allowed companies to adopt just-in-time strategies, minimizing inventories and responding rapidly to changes in demand. Some of it has been achieved through more decentralized forms of management which promote creative responsiveness and innovation throughout the production process. Most importantly, however, it has been achieved through forms of employment that are temporary, part-time, causal, or contract-based.

According to Jeffrey (2002: 354), modern enslavement was a way of making young children and women sign contracts that are legally binding to undertake a specific mandate in an organization. In African countries, where poverty is high, women are enticed into signing contracts that will end-up discriminating them (Jeffrey 2002: 354). Currently, manufacturing employment—unlike contract slavery—has been feminized and employment for all workers has become less secure and protected. More casualized and temporary, and less well paid; that is they have become more like he jobs that women have customarily accepted. This appears to be a trend in employment conditions across the world, and not only in export-oriented newly industrializing countries; evidenced in Sri Lanka (Gunewardena 2010: 374). However, these processes of feminization have not occurred evenly across the world and may even have been reversed in some areas. In addition, larger enterprises concentrate on the cultivation of a privileged labor force of multi-skilled workers, but respond to change sin market conditions through subcontracting arrangements with small units. Many of these units employ a peripheral labor force, who work long hours with minimal training and poor working conditions. It is primarily men who are perceived as having the necessary education and technical skills to manage the new generalized technologies and who make up the core work force, with women tending to predominate in smaller subcontracting firms.

Nevertheless, it remains the case that the most widely shared features of women’s manufacturing employment across the developing world are longer hours of work and lower wages than men. These differentials have formed the basis of their comparative advantage for export manufacturers. It is precisely in the rapidly industrializing countries in which women’s employment has increased the most that wage differentials between men and women are the highest (Doane 2005: 63). While women’s willingness to accept lower wages make them attractive as employees when profitability is based on the low costs of labor in a labor-intensive production process, the shift to a ‘high road’ of new, flexible and technologically sophisticated modes of production, in which the cost of labor is less important than its quality, presents an important development dilemma for low-income countries. The ‘high road’ is capital-intensive and reduces employment opportunities, particularly for unskilled, primarily female, labor (Zeigler 1996: 67). On the other hand, failure to adopt this strategy may constrain the growth of exports which meet standards for products and services that are being increasingly demanded in advanced countries.

However, gender inequity is still a problem in the employment sector in developing and underdeveloped economies. Gender inequity arises because women are more likely than men to be in temporary and seasonal work, with fewer employment benefits. There are variations in specific products and categories of work. Flower production in greenhouses is mainly carried out all year round, with high levels of female employment receiving full benefits (Koopman 1991: 150). In others, they are not in such a good position, but there are moves to integrate them. Women tend to be employed in packing houses in most sectors. Packing house employees are well compensated as compared to the employees working in the field, and they are unlikely to access the rights and benefits attributed to employment in which every employee and employer is entitled. At the other end of the spectrum, contract workers often experience the most flexible and informal employment, but there appears to be a higher concentration of male labor among such workers.

In agriculture, one issue that would appear to affect workers across the continuum is health and safety. Problems arise especially from the use of pesticides and other chemicals in the production process. This is a particular problem for workers confined spaces, such as greenhouses and packing houses, where exposure tends to be high and the workforce is largely female. There is evidence to suggest that health and safety procedures in relation to the handling and use of pesticides and chemicals are often lax or violated. The longer-term effects can be more serious, including a higher risk of serious illness and, in the case of women in particular, reproductive damage, including damage to unborn children. Despite the problems faced by women agricultural workers in global production, especially those with flexible and informal work, many still express the preference to have a job compared to the alternatives (Carr and Chen, 2004). Paid agricultural work provides increased independence within the household, the ability to contribute to household income and greater socialization. It also offers access to government and community-support programmes, which would otherwise be inaccessible. As a result, even where there are negative work attributes, there are also positives and women may still prefer this work to the alternatives.

Multinational companies have a responsibility to promote the welfare of their workers and to respect their rights. Women workers in informal work are increasingly linked to global production, but this is where employment conditions are often poorest and labor rights are abused, and therefore codes of conduct are most needed (Carr and Chen 2004: 4). Company and multi-stakeholder codes are often weak on gender issues related to employment, such as child care and the reproductive health of workers. Achieving equitable poverty reduction in a global economy requires access by women to decent work, in which their rights, protection, and voice are respected. Governments have an important role to play in protecting workers through labor regulation and implementation of Conventions agreed under the International Labor Organization (ILO) (Hughes and Haworth 2011: 37).

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have sought new ways to leverage better employment conditions in the employment sector. Enhancing synergy between regulatory and voluntary approaches has helped to secure decent work for women employed in global agriculture (Hughes and Haworth 2011: 39). CSOs have put increasing pressure on firms over poor employment conditions in their global working environment. This has resulted to numerous firms introducing codes of labor practice that lay out minimum labor standards for their employees. In some countries, voluntary approaches have led to the formation of multi-stakeholder initiatives involving companies, NGOs, and trade.

In conclusion, the emancipation of women has been central to attempts at modernizing and developing the society through the global productivity trend in the economy. Notwithstanding the undeniable importance of the formal rights acquired by women through the legal reforms and the changes in the education system, a genuine transformation in gender roles could not be achieved. This is in part because such a transformation was not really part of the reform agenda, but also because the scope of reforms was limited by the scarcity of the resources required across the globe. The timing and the society-specific dynamics of industrialization have constituted more of a barrier to the employment outside the agricultural sector. The working conditions and ignorance to labor rights has facilitated discrimination of women in the production sector. It seems necessary both to defend the formal rights acquired through modernization experience and to use them to transform the traditional gender roles that have been changing all over the world in the last few decades. This can only be achieved by an approach that problematizes both cultural and economic aspects of gender injustice.

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