In the last century, the world has had a complete overhaul of its productive economy: the Industrial Revolution, the age of technology, and the emergence of a massive informal economy.
Today, as the world feels like one giant Facebook group, people from all walks of life are met with opportunities and challenges one would have never predicted a decade ago.
But for women, do the benefits of our globalized economy outweigh the disadvantages?
Although these transformations have created many opportunities for feminized people, it is not hard to see that the disadvantages of our globalized economy today disproportionately adversely affect women.
By unpacking six factors that shape today’s economy, we can see some of the major obstacles women face in the labour force. Informalization, flexibilization, feminization, neglect of reproductive economy, privatization, and the heightened financial economy, all hinder the economic, social and political progress of women.
Informalization, or the birth of informal sector, has drastically changed the economic playing field. The emergence of the informal sector has created a platform that takes feminized people from the sometimes dangerous but protected production industries to unsafe and insecure under-the-table jobs. From working as cleaning ladies (note the word ‘ladies’) to selling goods on the side of the street, women rarely benefit from this economy in the long run.
Today, the informal sector polarizes the minority of highly skilled individuals who can take advantage of this system, and the rest who must deal with low wages, poor working conditions, and feminized jobs.
Flexibilization refers to the corporate shift from internal labour markets and/or promises of lifetime job security, to more adaptable employment relations that “permit [firms] to increase or diminish their workforce, and reassign and redeploy employees with ease” (Stone, 2005).
The flexibilization of work increases the power of the elite and creates insecurity for the majority of the world’s working population. As a result of this, few employees today feel protected in their profession – job security is a thing of the past. This shift, just like informalization, disproportionately affects women because females generally occupy lower level positions.
Feminization of labour is arguably the largest obstacle facing females today. Feminized occupations are characterized by unsafe labour conditions, an absence of contracts, and fulfilled by women and feminized men within the informal sector (Peterson, 2005). These jobs are precarious, unstable and underpaid.
From working as a nanny to temporary secretaries, these occupations are largely occupied by women.
Neglect of Reproductive Economy
Neglect of the reproductive economy, which has hurt us for centuries and is only exacerbated by globalization, is a major issue for women today.
The neglect of the reproductive economy fails to recognize the importance of the domestic duties women have performed for centuries. This disregard acutely exemplifies our patriarchal society by choosing to not see these duties as demanding and significant. It perpetuates patriarchal thinking that holds formal work in higher esteem than family/private affairs (hence the financial compensation).
This neglect has led to women working a “triple shift”: familial, formal and informal work (within the home, productive economy, and community). As a result of the triple shift the “public/private division does not in fact apply to many women, particularly working class women of color who daily navigate the public/private spheres.” (Lopez-Garza, 2000).
Privatization refers to the “rise of neo-liberal ideology, the attack on big government, and the dismantling of the social safety net” (Stone, 2005). These factors have recently come to dominate public policy in North America in recent years.
The most concerning factor of privatization today is the reduction in public spending, which leaves social services to be provided solely by local organizations with extremely limited resources. When social services are cut, women are disproportionately affected because it is primarily women who depend on labour services and secure jobs.
Furthermore, when the economy in a community is bad, it is women who are expected to pick up the slack, work the ‘triple shift’ of familial, formal, informal duties.
The repercussions of this are serious: it creates a feminized poverty, deteriorates female health, and inevitably hurts global development.
Heightened Financial Economy
The shift in focus to financial economy disproportionately hurts females due to its concentration on profits and short term goals, rather than long term objectives, structural changes and social benefits. The financial economy valorizes high-tech (masculine) jobs over feminized jobs, leaving unskilled workers with severed supports and paychecks (Peterson, 2005).
Additionally, as we know from past crises, there is little stability in the financial market. When these socialized risks come to fruition they hurt the economy, and as we see from privatization, women are disproportionately hurt when the economy falters.
This is unjust because women are rarely involved in policymaking processes and are underrepresented in finance institutions. It illustrates how the elite choose to ignore the gendered costs of crises.
It is clear that the world’s connectedness, and specifically the informal economy, has lifted countless families out of extreme poverty, but it is undeniable that there are uneven gendered effects of globalization.
It is time for us to demand more from the global institutions that regulate our economy. It is not enough that legislation declares it legal for women to participate in any job. We need programs to be established and beliefs to be transformed so women have equal professional opportunities. We need to fight for reform within a system that perpetuates unsafe work conditions, no job security, and elites dictating our knowledge and information.
Ladies and gentlemen, women in the workforce have been failed. And as a result, so has our global society.
In the year of 2014, let’s hope that the world recognizes this sooner rather than later.