Globalization and Gender Issues

  • Edit
  • Discuss
  • History
Jump to: navigation, search

The paper below is a contribution by Prof. Rekha Pande, from the Centre for Women’s studies (CWS), University of Hyderabad in India.


Most of the economies of the developing world are now in the process of restructuring from an inward looking and state directed policy regime to an outward looking economy in the direction of free market and liberalization. India had adopted the New Economic Policy in 1991 in the wake of the debt crisis, as an essential part of the structural Adjustment Policy urged by the IMF and the World Bank. It was believed that this would make India overcome its foreign exchange deficits, encourage foreign investments and strengthen the balance of payments. The World Bank gave substantial loans to tide over the crisis. The globalization of trade and commerce was part of this package. Though these reforms focused mainly on industrial, fiscal, financial and external sectors, it was anticipated that a market determined exchange rate regime, reduction of protection to the industry and removal of restrictions on agricultural exports would benefit the agricultural sector. It was also expected that the new multilateral trading regime would enable India to increase her share in world exports of agricultural and agro based products.

In the global system, marked with widening income disparities, economic growth disparities, human capital disparities (life expectancy, nutrition, infant and child mortality, adult literacy, enrolment ratio etc.), disparities in the distribution of global economic resources and opportunities, the disturbing question that arises is that who would protect the interests of the poor and under privileged. The dominance of rich nations, multinational corporations and international capital over markets, resources and labour in the developing countries through trade, aid and technology transfer has greatly weakened the capacity of nation states and governments to promote human development and offer protection to the poor people. If the global opportunities continue to be unevenly distributed, the consequences of the most pressing problem, poverty, would increasingly overflow national frontiers [1].


Globalization has been described as the gradual elimination of economic borders and concomitant increase in international exchange and transnational interaction[2]. Globalization has been identified with economic reforms, structural adjustment programs, New World trade order and the opening up of the commercial markets and the global communication village and the world increasingly becoming similar and smaller. In the context of women this would mean a better social and economic status. But does a growing interdependence and interconnectedness, necessarily lead to women’s development? A look at agriculture sector from a gender perspective in India, shows that it is not necessarily so. Globalization gets manifested in many ways. These include increased collaboration between companies in production and research, greater use of international financial markets, spatial spread of production activities to utilize local factors, cost advantage and gain access to new markets, increased intra-firm trade and trade in semi finished parts, increased merger and acquisitions and greater use of international labor market for specialized and senior management staff[3]. It is necessary to look at globalization in terms of its impact on the entire economy and society but with a perspective that is sensitive to women’s needs and conditions because women comprise about half the sub-continents population. Gender has been increasingly acknowledged as a critical variable in analysis and development planning. Gender is an expression of power in social relationship between men and women. Gender as a power relation derives from institutional arrangements which provide men of a given social group, with greater capacity than women from that social group to mobilize institutional rules and resources to promote and defend their own interests[4]. The analytic concept of gender is meant to challenge the essentialist and universal dictum that, “biology is destiny”[5]. In every form of activity, be it agriculture or allied activities, domestication of animals, fishing, weaving, garment making , women contribute substantially to the value addition of the final product and yet their work is perceived by all as subsidiary, unskilled and often as skill only of domestic value. A large number of these women are burdened with the double burden of work and are vulnerable to exploitation. Though not a homogeneous group by way of caste, class or economic activity, deprivation and discrimination connect workers from this sector. They suffer from lack of opportunity to work, low and discriminatory wages and exploitative conditions resulting in casualization. They lack social security, face occupational health hazards, and do not have access to new technologies, skills and knowledge[6].

The Case of India

The period between the early 1950’s to the mid 1960’s was one of high growth in agricultural production and productivity caused by the rapid increase in public irrigation facilities during the First and Second five Year Plan period. It was thought that a closed economy model based on self reliance and import substitution, along with a major role for the state in allocation of resources would enable the country to achieve rapid economic growth and economic and social transformation.While this strategy has been successful in establishing a vast pool of scientific and technical human resource, during the first three decades of planning the GDP was only 3.5%. The second phase of agricultural change and economic growth occurred during the early 70’s marked by a different strategy of intensive and selective growth with programs to assist producers to produce more and the shift in emphasis from public to minor private irrigation works. This new strategy favored the bigger farmers who were given special benefits, with electricity and water, at highly subsidized rates—high yielding variety seeds, fertilizers, credit etc. Though a number of programs were initiated to help the small farmers the growth process was selective and by-passed many segments of society[7] .Thus the benefits of agricultural development did not percolate to those most in need of them.

Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister, stated at the time of the initiation of the New Economic Policy in 1991 that via the domestic economic liberalization and opening of the economy to foreign trade and capital flows, the Indian economy could be put on a high growth path. Although there were no major reforms in the agriculture sector it was argued that the agriculture sector would benefit indirectly by exchange rate reform and reduction of protection to the industry and by directly removing the barriers to external trade in agricultural products[8]. Globalization has created a vast divide between the haves and the have-nots. There is strong evidence to show that the contemporary process of globalization with emphasis on technical change in agriculture associated with higher capital intensity, greater mechanization of production and post harvest operations, the development of crop and livestock with varied characteristics geared to the requirement of commercial commodity production has been accompanied by changes which women experience in unique ways. These include the loss of knowledge, skills and production contributions[9]. For Indian agriculture multiplication, distribution and availability of good quality seed is crucial to accelerated food production. With the entry of multinational companies in seed production and distribution and the consequent effects of patenting under the WTO regime, providing good quality seeds at affordable prices is becoming a challenge. The growth-oriented policies of government have taken away whatever control women had over traditional occupations. With a decline in State’s interventionist role the marketization of the economy has led to an increased burden for women and is turn increasing the inequalities between regions, men and women and increased feminization of poverty[10].

Indian Women and Globalization

It has been pointed out that women as consumers stand to lose under protectionism if the price of domestic goods is higher than those in the world markets, while women as producers stand to gain through the liberalization of trade in agricultural production, and exports only if they belong to the category of surplus farmers, but not that of subsistence production[11]. Since most of the women are in subsistence economy, globalization is detrimental to the poor women and contributes to the feminization of poverty. Today the shifting market considerations have created unforeseen economic hardships for the weaker nations and more so for the poor women who suffer from a double disadvantage of belonging to the under privileged class and that of the under privileged gender. Modernization and mechanization has brought many paradoxical situations for the poor household women. In the increasing cash based economy the conversion of cash into grain and dry fodder has become an expensive proposition for these households. In the absence of alternative avenues of employment and other important sources of subsistence, the poor landless farm hands are being increasingly marginalized and pauperized[12].For example, a single harvester combine harvests about 100 acres of crop in three days. Because of its efficient and speed functioning, even farmers having small holdings now find it more viable to get the crop harvested by these machines against cash payments. From the farmers point of view the work is done speedily, saving his time and quick completion of harvest operations and it protects the farmer from grain because he now makes payments in cash. Unfortunately, as a result of this a large number of farm labor families that were earlier grain wise comfortable throughout the year, now in majority of cases, been made surplus and those few who manage to find work have to strive hard to convert their cash into grains which usually becomes very expensive as time passes. This means working hard but earning less[13].

In a study of Odde caste women agricultural laborers from Salem district in Tamilnadu, D. Padmavathi and Vijaylakshmi Rammohan have shown how agricultural mechanization and inflation has contributed towards the pauperization of female agricultural laborers. Because of modernization and technological transfer this particular caste group was forced to migrate to the cities in search of employment. Before migration they sold their lands to the big farmers with whom they were unable to compete because of changes in the economy. The “pull” factor for these migrants to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh has been quarry mining, which has created new demands for labor in the unorganized sector because of liberalization and privatization. Earlier quarrying was considered a ‘men’s activity’ but since 1970’s growing liberalization and privatization of the quarry economy has made all this possible because the stone cutting and dynamiting of rocks on the quarries are being subcontracted. The quarry contractors now employ migrants by paying them lower wages. These women work for more than fifteen hours a day and have no permanency of work, shelter or receive any perks. Working in the quarries also poses many health hazards. Globalization has only compounded the situation by pushing women further down the occupational hierarchy[14].Women as consumers stand to lose under protectionism if the prices of domestic goods exceed that of the world market, while women as producers gain through liberalization of trade if they belong to the category of surplus farmers[15]. Most of the women farmers are in subsistence production. Due to these changes, lack of work all the year round and slack and drought seasons they have little choice but to migrate to other areas. The focus of the ‘green revolution’ has been increasing grain yields of rice and wheat by techniques such as dwarfing, monocultures and multicropping. For an Indian women farmer, rice is not only food but also a source of fodder for cattle, straw for thatch. High yielding varieties have increased women’s work. The destruction of biological diversity undermines women’s diverse contribution to agriculture by eroding biological sources of good, fodder, fertilizer, fuel and fiber[16] . The shift from local varieties and local indigenous crop improvement, strategies can also take away women’s control over seeds and genetic resources[17].Similarly, women’s access to credit is also severely restricted. They do not have the collateral (land title and cattle) required for agricultural loans.

With the process of commercialization women’s traditional land rights were eroded. Land reform programs as well as the tendency towards the breakup of communal land holding especially ideas of tribal and customary tenures have led to the transfer of exclusive land rights to males as head of households. The ‘head of the family’ concept which is used as the basis for land redistribution has historically ignored both the existence of the female headed households and the rights of the married women to a joint share in land.

The ecological decline in common report resources and the decline in access to what remains due to force of privatization has meant that women work harder and are less able to fulfill their multiple roles in the maintenance and care of the farming system and the farm household. Thus a growing imbalance exists between women’s access to land, labor capital, services and facilities on the one hand and demands of production on the other.

Irrigation is another area where this change can be seen. Traditionally irrigation was based on water harvesting and water was transferred from the small ponds to the fields through the bucket system operated manually, and women were very active here. The introduction of diesel pumps has made irrigation a male monopoly. This has not reduced women’s workload. Many women’s access to resources including energy is actually declining, while their need for food and income is increasing. Women are the most important collectors and users of biomass. The increasing scarcity of biomass is multiplying women’s work[18].


Globalization promises to remove backwardness through a worldwide exchange of information and skills in order to establish a truly cosmopolitan culture. There is an underlying belief that mutual cooperation and concern for social justice is automatically cared for under this system. In actual practice since the global order is based on unequal power relations these promises are not achieved. Globalization effects the weaker nations and the weak among them. Due to the existing difference between women’s and men’s access to knowledge, skills, responsibilities and concerns and control over resources they are affected widely by the global process. In many developing countries since women in the agricultural sector have none they continue to bear the brunt of gender and class inequalities, experience increasing marginalization and pauperization[19].

These growth-oriented policies have taken away whatever control women had over traditional occupations and denied them better avenues of employment[20]. In the shift from welfare development to economic development the worst hit have been women, because a large number of them are in the informal sector. Globalization has only widened gender disparity and increased feminization of poverty. Globalization has to take into concern glocalization and the local realities.

Challenges in the wake of Globalization

Globalization has also decreased the control of women over resources. It has led to displacement and when both men and women land up in urban slums it affects the women more due to lack of sanitation. There is also an increase in the violence against women in these areas. The rhetoric of globalization promises to remove backwardness through a world wide exchange of information and establish a cosmopolitan culture but in actual practice since the world is based on unequal power relations these concerns are put on hold and lead to displacement and marginalization[21]. Hence we need a holistic approach to development and empowerment—an approach which is based on equality, love and respect and starts from the family rather than an approach which is based on power and privilege of men and boys and weakness and subservience prescribed for women and girls.

Today there is an irreversibility of the reform process. The logic of global economy as well as India’s interests dictate that India become pro active in its liberalization policies. India must liberalize not because it has no choice but because it is the best choice. India must liberalize because that way alone can it become a rich and prosperous nation and that way alone is there any hope of conquering poverty[22]. The realities of the transitional period and the costs to vulnerable sections of society have to be recognized by the policy makers, and some social safety nets to be created. The agricultural reforms must be sensitive to gender needs. The existing policy package consisting of Minimum Support Price for selected agricultural products and procurement of few food products and the supply of foodgrains and a few essential items through the Public Distribution System (PDS) need to be reviewed. The ideas of a minimum support price and crop insurance to reduce production risks will go a long way in helping the farmers. The PDS should target the poor and the people living below poverty line. Direct market interventions in the form of purchase, storage and distribution by government agencies must be avoided and increase the farmers especially women’s access to the market via better roads and transport facilities, storage, packing and agro processing facilities. The goal must be sustainable agricultural development. It is imperative for the government to prioritize food security. It is very important to develop safety nets to minimize the adverse distributional consequences of globalization. Legal frameworks should be altered to ease women’s access to and control of resources. The granting of land rights to women, rectifying the discriminatory inheritance laws, labour market legislations and laws to protect common property will go a long way in altering the social conditioning of gender.

Sustainable human development must be at the top of the priority agenda. There is a need to look at development with a human face. The most important goals must include universal access to basic education, primary health care for all, elimination of serious malnutrition and provision of safe drinking water. Women’s concerns need to be explicitly incorporated as integral elements of the objectives, content, monitoring and international support for structural adjustment. There is a need to take into account women’s special needs in the contribution to economic production, such as household management, child rearing, and community organization in addition to their contribution to agriculture. We need to view human beings as having intrinsic value and not just an instrumental value. The right to a life of dignity is a basic human right. Hence there is a need to change the total perspective. Development and Empowerment will have no real meaning until we focus on the issues of the situation of girl child, gender violence and globalisation.


  1. Human Development Report, 1995
  2. Michael Dolan,Global economic transformation and less developed countries
  3. Alan Gibson,Fortress or easy street: The impact of emerging Trade structures on globalization and developing countries
  4. Naila Kabeer,Reversed Realities
  5. Teresa Del Valle,Gendered Anthropology
  6. Shramshakti Report of the National commission on Self Employed Women and Women in the Informal Sector
  7. Kasturi Leela,Poverty, migration and women’s status
  8. Manmohan Singh, Inaugural Address, Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics
  9. Janice Jigging, Gender Related Impacts and the Work of the International Agricultural Center
  10. Rekha Pande,Globalization and women in the agricultural sector
  11. Aasha Kapur Mehta, Globalization and the Third World
  12. Reicha Tanwar,Women and falling incomes: the impact of cash economy in Rural India
  13. Reicha Tanwar,Women and falling incomes: the impact of cash economy in Rural India
  14. D. Padmavathi and Vijay Lakshmi Ramamohan,Technological Dichotomy: The story of women quarry workers
  15. Aasha Kapur Mehta, Globalization and the Third World
  16. Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution: Ecological Degradation and Political Conflict in Punjab
  17. Towards Equality, Report on the status of women
  18. Janice Jigging, Gender Related Impacts and the Work of the International Agricultural Center
  19. Rekha Pande, The Social Costs of Globalization: Restructuring Developing World Economies
  20. The Social Costs of Globalization: Restructuring Developing World Economies
  21. Rekha Pande,Globalization and women in the agricultural sector
  22. Desai, Meghanad, What should be India’s economic priorities in a globalized world?

See Also


  1. D. Padmavathi and Vijay Lakshmi Ramamohan, “Technological Dichotomy: The story of women quarry workers” in Raj Mohan Sethi (Ed) Globalization, Culture and women’s Development, Rawat Publications, New Delhi, 1999.
  2. Dolan, Michael, “Global economic transformation and less developed countries”, in Global Transformation and the Third world, (eds) Robert O. Slater, Barry M.Schutz and Steven R. Dorr, Lynne Reinner Publishers Inc. Boulder, Colorado, 1993.
  3. Desai, Meghnad, What should be India’s economic priorities in a globalized world? Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, New Delhi, 1999.
  4. Gibson, Alan, “Fortress or easy street: The impact of emerging Trade structures on globalization and developing countries” in S. Neelamegham (Ed), Competing Globally, Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 1994.
  5. Kabeer, Naila, Reversed Realities, Verso, London, 1994.
  6. Shramshakti, Report of the National commission on Self Employed Women and Women in the Informal Sector, Publication Division, Government of India, Patiala House, New Delhi, June 1988.
  7. Jigging, Janice, “Gender Related Impacts and the Work of the International Agricultural Center, CGIAR, 1986.
  8. Kalirajan, K.P.G.Mythili and U.Sankar, Accelerating growth through globalization of Indian agriculture, Macmillan India Ltd. New Delhi, 2001.
  9. Leela Kasturi, “ Poverty, migration and women’s status”, in Vina Majumdar(ed), Women workers in India, Chanakya Publications, Delhi, 1990.
  10. Manmohan singh, Inaugural Address, Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 50, No.1, 1995.
  11. Mehta, Aasha Kapur, “Globalization and the third world”, in Raj Mohan Sethi (Ed), Globalization, Culture and women’s Development, Rawat Publications, New Delhi, 1999.
  12. Towards Equality, Report on the status of women, Government of India, New Delhi, 1974
  13. Pande, Rekha, 2000. Rolling ill health, Health Action,Vol. 14, No.8, August
  14. Pande, Rekha, The Social Costs of Globalization: Restructuring Developing World Economies, Journal of Asian Women’s Studies, Kitakyushu Forum on Asian women, Japan, Vol. 10, 2001.
  15. Pande, Rekha, “Globalization and women in the agricultural sector”, International Feminist journal of Politics, Vol.2, No.3, Routledge, London.2000.
  16. Pande, Rekha, 2000. Rolling ill health, Health Action,Vol. 14, No.8, August
  17. Shiva, Vandana, The Violence of the Green Revolution: Ecological Degradation and Political Conflict in Punjab, Zed.Books, London, 1991.
  18. Tanwar, Reicha, “Women and falling incomes: the impact of cash economy in Rural India”, in Raj Mohan Sethi (Ed) Globalization, Culture and women’s Development, Rawat Publications, New Delhi, 1999.
  19. Valle, Teresa Del, Gendered Anthropology, Routledge, London, 1993.

Article Information
Wikiprogress Wikichild Wikigender University Wikiprogress.Stat ProgBlog Latin America Network African Network eFrame