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Is globalisation a blessing or burden on women?
Rezina Sultana

          GLOBALISATION in varied forms is a dynamic concept. So, it is very difficult to define its changing effects in fixed words. However, for the sake of explaining the gender impact of technological and economic globalisation on women and children of Bangladesh an international political economy perspective may come of use.
The Asian tsunami of 2004 or the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 and the subsequent economic impact felt globally help realise the effects of globalisation. This is because it demonstrated that activities in one part of the world could have a domino effect on communities and people in living in other far-flung areas of the world.
However, globalisation as usually understood, has occurred in a very uneven manner and people have been integrated into the global economy in varying degrees. For instance, women comprise half of the world's population and fill in two-thirds of the world's work hours, yet everywhere they are poorer in resources and poorly represented at decision-making levels.
Globalisation has enabled capitalists to move their capital around the world more quickly and easily. This, in turn, has resulted in the removal of state controls on trade and investment, substantial disappearance of tariff barriers, which has gone on to harm poor people who are mostly women in the developing world. This means lower wages and reduced employment opportunities for millions of workers, particularly women in the developing countries as seen in Bangladesh's textiles and readymade garments (RMG) industry.
Preliminary research conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies shows that garment workers face several obstacles, including occupational health hazards. Despite the severity of these problems, women's health and the protection of their labour rights have received scant attention. Bangladesh's national health programme focuses almost entirely on birth control.
According to local NGOs, one of the greatest constraints to improving the lot of women is the lack of information on RMG workers' health. This may come as a surprise to many that most female RMG workers in Bangladesh work as many as 12-16 hours daily throughout the week and get a poorer wage than their male counterparts on doing the same work. However, the good thing is that Bangladeshi RMG workers have started campaigning for the implementation of weekly holiday every Friday.
Now in Bangladesh, 1.5 million garment workers are working in approximately 2,700 RMG units, of whom 80 per cent are women. RMG roughly covers 76 per cent of the total export of the country and is the highest earning industry.
But regrettably enough, the lion's share of the profit goes right into the deep pockets of the owners of the readymade apparels factories, while the workers, especially female workers, continue to languish in abysmal poverty.
So, frankly speaking, every pair of Levis jeans tailored here bears the sighs and tear marks of the workers. Due to global competition, the export price of such jeans had to be rolled backward reducing the margin of profit. Till now, the minimum wage of the garment workers is Tk 800 (US$ 16 ) and average wage for the operator is Tk 1350 ($ 28 ). They are riddled by countless problems such as low wage, irregular payment, forceful overtime, bad working environment, termination etc. In absence of weekly holiday the workers, their families and their children are all being severely affected both mentally and physically. Most workers are becoming isolated from their parents, children, families and societies. The condition of the women workers are even more pathetic with their husbands, in-laws and families demanding flawless household performance, support and loyalty from them after a routine 14-hour daily drudgery. As a result, countless women working in the manufacturing sector are facing divorce for failing to bear the burden of such multifarious demands.
Globalisation has created different and increased opportunities for men to women for violence. The financial power of men in the rich and developed countries such as the UK and the USA, the changing tougher laws against domestic violence that mostly harms women has led them to export their harmful habits abroad to the developing world. This is because the cost of their actions (violence against women, sexual assault, rapes, abuses and so forth) is cheaper or non-existent in these poor regions. So, women or children may not know what to do in the event of a crime due to lack of resources.
Even in the academic field, gender differences still remain important as an issue of debate, especially in chauvinistic societies like Bangladesh, where even the women involved in so-called white collar jobs regularly face gender exploitation of one sort or the other. As for the academia, it has been argued that principles, which have traditionally organised the academy, have largely ignored women.
Globally, women academics have been underrepresented in absolute terms. Even in the UK, for instance, women comprise only some 25 per cent of the total fulltime academic staff. According to a report by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of UK, women staffs tend to be concentrated in lower grades, less secure posts, often on teaching or research-only posts and paid on an average, less than their male colleagues. It is in this light that Dr Sandra Harley terms the practices and the procedures of universities and educational institutes as being "gender cultured", reason being that they are seen as embodying fundamentally male values and interests.
Clearly, therefore, the gender war is as old as the human civilisation itself, and any country where the gender difference is higher, is perceived to be at the rudimentary level of 'civilisation' even in this modern age.
For obvious reasons, the globalisation debate is also long and unending. As we focus on the gendered impact of globalisation on women of Bangladesh, we find that the socially manufactured roles of women in society have served to enhance the interest of men at the expense of women. Branches of study that focuses on women, said to have started in 1970s, have served a very useful purpose in unearthing the inequalities that women face in societies.
But the advancement of information technology has helped women to spread their campaigns globally. This is undeniably one of the positive attributes of globalisation that stresses on bridging the digital divide and bringing everyone together under a global village. However, at the same time, the growth of technology-enabled services such as picture messages on cell phones and pornography on the Internet has amplified sexual assaults on women and "gendered" people. Although Bangladesh still languishes at the technological backyard of Asia, these vices are already starting to tell on the society, especially on women and children.
Clearly, more needs to be done to bring about changes in gender power relations. It would take long to achieve a semblance of equality between men and women, but the change of attitude should start at some point -- sooner the better.
The writer teaches English at the State University of Bangladesh


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