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Is globalisation good for women?

By Syed Mohammad Ali

Women in Pakistan, like elsewhere in the developing world, face growing insecurity due to increasing competition. Also, there is no guarantee of gaining access to the emerging opportunities unless steps are taken to increase their socio-economic empowerment. If Pakistan is to prosper in the globalisation era it needs to ensure that the marginalised women can become more astute and efficient.

It is said that poverty today has a woman’s face. Out of the 1.3 billion poor in the world, 70 percent are women. Several UN agencies concur that this feminisation of poverty persists even though women produce 60 percent of all food, run 70 percent of small-scale businesses worldwide and constitute a third of the global labour force. Besides doing all this, women have a disproportionate burden of managing their families and homes.

Unfortunately globalisation is further intensifying the pressures on women around the world. The liberalisation of agriculture sector for example has affected women in a variety of ways, ranging from increased competition for their products in local markets to their dislocation from traditional forms of livelihood. They also find it more difficult, due to decline in food subsidies, to manage their households. Budget cuts in the public sector expenditure are compelling women to take on greater responsibilities to address the basic needs of their families. This is particularly true of poor families where women’s earnings have become critical to subsistence of households. Due to globalisation, more women are seeking opportunities to earn a livelihood. The trend is not helping improve the quality of their lives. Lack of education and skills is forcing most of these women to work either in the informal sector or in the secondary sector of an increasingly segmented labour market. Working conditions are harsh and the benefits meagre.

Due to the unchecked destabilising effects of globalisation therefore, women’s work is getting harder and take longer. On one hand, globalisation has placed greater pressure on women to ensure survival of the family; on the other, their share in food and nutrition intake is decreasing. This threatens not only their own health, but also that of their children. These trends have particularly grave consequences for Pakistan which already has some of the worst gender development indicators in the region. Findings of the Human Development in South Asia Report reveal that female economic activity rate in Pakistan is the lowest and unemployment rate the highest among the South Asian nations. In the absence of reliable macro-level data, it is difficult to assess the gender-specific impact of globalisation. However several studies have highlighted adverse impact of globalisation on marginal groups especially poor rural women.

Rural women in our country remain at the lower end of the skill and knowledge base. They shoulder an excessive work burden. They have little social protection and lack access to basic social services like health and education. Most of these women also have very limited or no entitlements in terms of access and control over income and resources. Being underpaid, and largely unorganised, these marginalised women are hardly in a position to negotiate better terms for themselves.

Given that we do not actually known much about the capabilities and circumstances of poor women in our country, it is difficult to help them benefit from the opportunities presented by globalisation. What we do know is that their illiteracy implies a very limited ability to understand and cope with forces of change. It is therefore vital to launch multi-pronged basic and functional literacy programmes for women so that they can better understand and deal with the varied effects of globalisation on their own lives.

Our policymakers should also try to introduce specific legislation and programmes of action to entitle women to greater access to productive assets, and inputs. Women, particularly in rural areas of the country, have very limited mobility. In addition to inadequate transport facilities, cultural restrictions, too, restrict their movement. Since most poor women work within home and cannot go to the market themselves, they often fall prey to manipulation by middlemen, who exploit their lack of direct access to the market. Cottage industry workers could certainly earn much better incomes if they could only connect to the cosmopolitan consumers, who appreciate and pay handsome prices for handicrafts purchased through retailers. It is thus very useful to assist poor women market their products though appropriate mechanisms like self-help groups, government or NGO-sponsored outlets.

Poor women engaged in handicrafts like needlework and embroidery also require assistance with product design so they can target high-value markets for stylised products. Women involved in rearing livestock in several parts of the country could similarly do better if they knew more about disease prevention, vaccination and treatment of simple ailments. Disseminating information concerning preserving and processing various fruits and vegetables can increase cash earnings of poor women besides raising our agricultural productivity.

It is also important to lessen the workload of extremely overworked poor women prior to launching capacity building or information raising schemes that require additional time and energy. Male members of the families must realise the need to take on more responsibility in helping perform household chores, to allow women a chance to become more productive. It is high time to cast aside chauvinistic attitudes and to realise that placing unnecessary restrictions or inordinate duties on women is in fact a direct threat to the very survival of the poor.

There is no doubt that the challenges confronting women have increased in this era of globalisation. Women in Pakistan, like elsewhere in the developing world, face a growing sense of insecurity due to the increasing competition being ushered in by globalisation. Also, there is no guarantee of gaining access to the emerging opportunities unless steps are taken to increase their socio-economic empowerment. If Pakistan wants to prosper in the globalisation era it needs to ensure that the marginalised women across the country can become more astute and efficient.

Source: Daily Times

Date:10/12/2004

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