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Women's Rights and Globalization
Is globalization a friend or foe to women's rights worldwide?

The following is on Women's Rights and Globalization. Is globalization a friend or foe to women's rights worldwide? It is adapted from the Association for Women in Development (AWID). It is titled Re-inventing Globalization.

Re-inventing Globalization

“Globalization.” Its meaning and impact on social and economic equality, human rights, democracy and participation, have become subject to some of the most controversial debates and impassioned protests in the world today. The arguments encompass every aspect of globalization-- is it an inevitable process, or is it open to challenge? Is it a new phenomenon, or has it been evolving for over 500 years? Can it ever lead to social and economic justice, or will it benefit only a privileged few? One thing is clear: globalization is having a dramatic effect on women's rights and gender equality.

Globalization processes -- often referred to as the free flow of capital, the removal of trade barriers between states, and the accompanying technological, cultural and political transformations and exchanges -- have become some of the most significant influences on gender equality throughout the world. But women's experiences with globalization are extremely complex and diverse, both positive and negative. Just how one is affected by globalization depends on intersecting factors such as class, nationality, race, ability, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, age and education. There are some women who have significantly benefited from current global trends through better employment opportunities and autonomy, access to new technologies and increased purchasing power.

On the other hand, globalization processes have also meant greater insecurity and hardship for many other women. Cuts in social services, increased privatization and a flexible labour force are all inherent characteristics of globalization. Where governments have pulled back from spending in health and education, women have been forced to make up for the shortfall. As a result of public sector lay-offs, the expansion of export processing zones and the explosion of the informal sector, women disproportionately encounter low wages, poor working conditions and escalating risks. Many corporations exporting cash crops, pharmaceuticals or oil make huge profits at the expense of land rights, biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. The so- called 'communication revolution' has also raised issues of severe exclusion, further marginalizing women, especially in the Global South.

Indeed, globalization is not just about economic change. Increased foreign investment and transnational corporate power has weakened the nation state and transformed the terrain at all levels at which citizens can demand accountability for their rights. In some regions, deepening disparity and marginalization are creating fertile ground for burgeoning fundamentalist movements-- based on ethnicity, nationality or religion. Often, these movements have explicit agendas to undermine women's rights. Similarly, private companies are increasingly able to patent and profit from indigenous knowledge and life forms, thereby creating a whole new range of ecological, ethical and human rights challenges.

Whether one is now benefiting from globalization, or facing its perilous effects, the question before us is still the same: How can we re-invent globalization to further the rights of all women? In order to seriously tackle this question, other fundamental questions need to be asked: If we oppose the current process of globalization what do we see as alternatives? How are we changing these alternative visions into realities? What have we learned from years of feminist thinking and activism around globalization issues? What are the emerging signs of hope in the face of the powerlessness generated by globalization? And lastly, how does the women's movement move forward to ensure that our ideas are translated into concrete actions in the years to come?

AWID's 9th International Forum on Women's Rights and Development: Re- inventing Globalization will seek to answer these challenges in order to launch a new and catalytic agenda for the next decade. We intend to collectively define viable economic, social and political frameworks that can guarantee gender equality, sustainable livelihoods and human rights for all. To achieve this, the Forum will seek to move beyond the all too familiar analysis and critique of globalization while ensuring that the complexities of these global trends are truly demystified.

(Association for Women in Development (AWID), “Re-inventing Globalization,” at the Human Rights Internet (HRI) website, www.hri.ca/women/news/index/awid.shtml, (accessed January 2008)

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