Patrice Riemens on Fri, 24 Apr 1998 23:00:59 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Christa Wichterich: A No Win-Win Game: On Women and Globalisation

Christa Wichterich


1) The global run for comparative advantages has lead to a
competition of sorts in dumping costs at the expense of the
workers: salaries are cut, workers rights are curtailed, health-
and environmental risks are ignored, flexibilisation and
informalisation of labour increase. Women are used in the heated
global competition like a natural and expandable resource because
they are cheap, docile and flexible. Their discontinuous work
biographies caused by pregnancies, births and child rearing comply
with the flexible demands of the labour market. Women are pioneers
in the new modes of labour, as temps, just-in-time- and
homeworkers, as self-employed in the informal sector, small-scale
entrepreneurs assisted by a micro-credit. They are the call girls
of the global labour market, as workers on the global assembly
line, as farmers who dig and weed on the global field, as migrants
who subsidize the family back home in the village, as body
trafficked from one part of the world to another. Yet the
flexibilisation and informalisation of labour is now affecting men
as well.

2) This global restructuring of labour markets means the end of
security through paid labour. In future, lifelong and full-time
employment will be an exception, just as the man as sole
breadwinner. Discontinuous work biographies will be a standard
feature and labour life will be like a tight rope walk with steep
descents and new beginnings. Deregulation of labour markets makes
for informal and flexible employment which does not yield enough
income to secure a living, is usually unprotected by labour laws,
and is not covered by social insurance. Reducing the production
costs for employers and companies through casualisation, out-
sourcing and homework means increasing the risk for the workers,
curtailing their social and economic rights. The sweatshop- and
out-sourcing economy make a comeback and change whole regions and
countries into free trade zones. The increasing occurence of
individual patchwork-economies, the expanding informal sector in
all continents and the new social class of "working poor" are
indicators for this trend.

3) Women are deemed to be the winners of globalised production,
trade and services because more women are able to obtain
employment. This so-called "feminisation of employment" and the
integration of women into the worldmarket do not end
discrimination and do not prevent poverty. More women become cash
earners, but less reap security. The majority of women stay in the
"pink ghetto" of typically female professions, on the lowest
levels of the income- and prestige-hierarchy. Their chances of a
professional career are limited, even in the sector of new
technologies. And the group of winners is small: only a few women,
young, highly qualified, dynamic, and mostly single, experience
success stories and gain access to the domain of male achievement
and decision making. The majority of women are only winners of low
paid jobs and the masters of flexibilisation in a permanent twine
between cash and care economy.

4) The global shopping mall is now open for business. Consumption
is a kind of new global culture. And a mechanism through which the
neo-liberal system coopts the new, highly consumerist middle
class, but as well the women who work as just-in-time-tailors in a
sweatshop. At the same time, the restructuring of the labour
market polarizes societies and deepens the gap between haves and
haves-not. The majority of women don't have the cash to purchase
what the advertisement industry propagates as desirable in the new
class system of ownership, where "brand name or no name" is the

5) Parallel to the restructuring of the labour markets, states
withdraw from their responsibilities for social security and
redistribution of wealth. In the North this happens in the wake of
the dismantling of the welfare state, in the former communist
world after the collapse of the autoritarian socialist
overprotecting regimes, and in the South as part and parcel of
structural adjustment. Both, the state and the market externalise
their social costs. Most of the social tasks are taken over by
women, either individually in the household or collectively by
women's groups in community work. Their unpaid work cushions
social hardship. The rise of communitarism, the talk about the
"third sector" and "citizen's work" as well as the praise of
voluntary work by politicians actually echo the feminisation of
social responsibility and props up the abandonment by the state of
its social duties.

6) The flexible and informal modes of work make organisation of
the labour force more difficult. The traditional male-dominated
trade unions are unable or unwilling to cope either with the
changes in the global markets or with the needs of women.
Conventional modes of resistance have become ineffective. New
global struggles and political instruments have to be explored as
well as new international alliances as for instance between
women's organisations, trade unions, human rights groups, consumer
organisations, and NGOs lobbying f.ex. for the engendering of

7) We are not running short of work but of paid work. What is
needed therefore is a new social contract about the redistribution
of paid and unpaid work and the gender division of labour.
Preconditions are a reduction of working hours and mechanisms
which either force or convince men to share unpaid work in the
care economy.

8) States should not be allowed to disengage themselves from their
social responsibilities and from their duty to regulate the
market. The growing power of the TNCs and of the multilateral
financial institutions has to be checked and curtailed. The global
labour markets should be re-regulated by social and ecological
clauses. For instance the global trade in commodities should bear
eco-taxes in order to increase transport costs; a tax on
speculative transactions (Tobin tax) should be imposed on the
global financial market; and the downward trend in taxation of
capital and property has to be reversed.

9) Neo-liberal globalisation creates insecurity and dependency.
Social security will not come about ever by the market or the
state alone. However, as people especially women develop local and
regional systems of self-sufficiency and self-reliance in order to
counter dependency from the global market, they may regain an
autonomy which is need-oriented not profit-oriented, and which is
based on solidarity, and not on competition.

(Christa Wichterich is researcher and journalist based in Bonn, Germany.
Her most recent book "Die Globalisierte Frau" (The Globalised Woman) has
just been released by Rowolt.
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