Reazul Haque (Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka)
“Globalization” has become a very familiar term in recent years and almost a byword for both the right and the left in their analyses of the international economy and polity. Globalization as a process introduces competition in the international spectrum and key players of business entities are primarily driven by profit motives. As a result, socio-cultural aspects are often neglected which results exploitation of both people and resources in any way to ensure financial gain. As it was assumed by the dependency theorists, the least developing countries (LDCs) are suffering from these negative consequences and women as backward portion of the entire population of those countries remain as most vulnerable. In these contexts, this paper aims to focus specially on the social and political consequences of globalization for women in the developing countries with special reference to Bangladesh. However, before discussing all these, first of all it is relevant to spotlight the concept of globalization and its different dimensions.
What is Globalization?
Globalization is a highly challenging concept in terms of its connotation, forms and implications as the literature on globalization is large and diffuse. It was considered as a catchphrase in the 1990s. The key ideas by which we understand the transition of human society turning into a global village are free flows of information, capital, goods and services. All over the world people are now able to listen to Cable News Network (CNN), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) or Music Television (MTV) through satellite television channels, drink coca cola along with a pizza, wear Peter England or Hugo Boss and use an Intel-powered computer with Microsoft software to link up to the internet. Production process has become trans-local through Global Commodity Chain: a ford motor car built in Europe is made of parts manufactured in twelve European countries, programmers in the Silicon Valley and Bangalore, India, are jointly developing computer software. In whatever position a student will contribute through the knowledge and skills achieved from his academic endeavour after completing his/her studies at the foreign educational institutions undoubtedly depends on his analytical ability of the national issues by taking global factors into consideration. As a government official, NGO activist, university teacher or private consultant – the success of his/her intervention will be achieved by his/her capability to act globally and think locally.
James Mittelman provides one of the most comprehensive definitions of globalization: “The manifestations of globalization … include the spatial reorganization of production, the interpenetration of industrious across the borders, the spread of financial markets , the diffusion of identical consumer goods to distant countries , massive transfer of population within south as well as from the south and the east to the west , resultant conflicts between immigrant and established countries in formerly tight-knit neighbourhoods , and emerging world–wide preference for democracy. A rubric for varied phenomena, the concept of globalization interrelate multiple levels of analysis: economics, politics and ideology.”
Dimensions of Globalization
A multi–dimensional approach to globalization has to take economic, technological, political, social, cultural and environmental aspects into consideration. However, the discussion of this paper will be concentrated especially on the political and social aspects of it. Political globalization connects the expanding role of international governmental institutions and increasing political interdependence of nation states where as social globalization refers to inter exchange aspects of social life.
Increasing trend of trade deficit among LDCs due to market liberalization, cut back of state expenditure imposed by structural adjustment programs (SAP) resulting in increased participation of women in paid labour and female out- migration to assist financially in family life are the significant consequences of economic globalization. But emergence of mafia syndicate in exploiting working women through flesh trade and media advertising, wage discrimination and sexual harassment by employers is creating vulnerability of women to a great extent. Hence, economic and social aspects of globalization are closely interconnected and women bear the most burdens of their negative consequences.
Gender Implications of Political Globalization
The thrust of the discussion on the political implications of globalization can be found in a quotation from Mittleman: “globalization is not a single unified phenomenon, but a syndrome of processes and activities [that] … has become normalized as a dominant set of ideas and a policy framework, while … also being contested as a false universalism”. The following are the discussions on how political globalizations have influenced the women’s of the developing countries, particularly in the context of Bangladesh.
More participation by women at local levels
Women’s social integration through the process of globalization has led to the potential for new forms of participation and empowerment. Greater participation by women in the political and social process has helped to raise their awareness and enable them to feel honoured as a development activist. This is reflected in the growth of women’s groups, community organizations run by women and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) support for women’s initiatives within developing countries. These have often been fragmented, locally specific and frequently concerned with particular demands. They are neither homogeneous nor cohesive, but are, nevertheless, partly the outcome of women’s collective responses to the impact of globalization. Different arguments have had positive effects on the trustworthiness and success of women in politics, especially in those cases where women candidates and appointees are seen as less corrupt or more public–spirited than their men counterparts.
Local and grass-roots movements can make a difference in women’s lives, both materially and in women’s sense of self confidence and efficiency. Political parties have adopted gender quotas, which could have a positive impact on women’s formal representation and legislative agendas. Many countries and many more political parties are experimenting with gender quotas. Twelve nations in Latin America and several countries in East and South East Asia and Africa have adopted quota laws and India and Bangladesh have tried to reserve seats for women in local government council. Although their role is rarely acknowledged, gender quotas help to explain the success of the Nordic countries in electing a high percentage of women legislators. Some have argued that quotas actually decrease the legitimacy of women’s participation, especially when women candidates are the wives or relatives of male politicians or when women are given seats in recognition of their party service or social prominence and are then replaced by other honourees in the next electoral cycle. Several problems have been identified: quotas have been abused by male dominant parties, women in office have been marginalized, elected women may not be interested in women’s issues and women do not always agree about what their interests are.
Article 9 of Bangladesh Constitution states that “the state shall encourage local government institutions composed of representatives of the areas concerned and in such institutions special representation shall be given, as far as possible, to peasants, workers and women.” Local government of Bangladesh is known as Union Parisahd and women’s participation at the local government is still insignificant. In 1994, for the first time, 19 women ward commissioners were elected to the reserved seats of the Dhaka City Corporation. In 1997, Bangladesh government took a positive step to ensure women’s participation in the elected bodies at the local level. The government introduced a law of direct election of women for three reserved ward member seats to each Union Parishad. A part from the exclusive reserved seats, women can also compete for any general seats. 43,969 female candidates contested in the 1997 Union Parishad direct elections for 12,723 word member seats reserved for women.
Hossain (cited in Ahmed 2005) found that reserved seats for women have boosted women’s confidence and their capability but he points out that lack of opportunity to play an effective role from those seats has infused them with frustration. In the men dominated Union Parishad (UP), women ward members hold subordinate position and cannot express their views. Salma Ali (cited in Ahmed 2005) alleges “many women elected through quotas were subjected to sexual harassment by their men counterparts and were looked down upon as second category members”.
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (LGRD) constrained women UP members as they are not authorized to give birth certificate and cannot be a member of law and order maintain committee of the UP. Ain -O- Salish Kendro (ASK) sued against government and High Court gave verdict against government, but government till has not circulated a new rule for them.
Greater conflict in the development environment
As globalization is supposed to enhance global information exchange and technical assistance through mutual co-operation among countries, the real scenario is always the case of exploitation targeting the LDCs mostly dependent on foreign aid for their development. As a result, conflict often takes place when donor’s policy is not well accepted by the government receiving aid or grant. Hence donor’s dissatisfaction could result in fund withdrawal from government projects and in those cases women remain most deprived as a major recipient of government benefits.
Bangladesh government has introduced SAP in late 1980s and for that they have to cut down subsidies from welfare sectors which have negative impact on women. Governments raise of value added tax (VAT) led to a rise in price of commercial fuels used for cooking then there is likely to be a disproportionate effect on women. Poor families were likely to reduce their purchase of commercial fuel in effect and make more use of fuels they can acquire without any cash payment living in subsistence economy, such as animal dung and wood. Women discriminately gather and prepare this fuel, thus paying an invisible price in terms of additional workload. If the state introduces policies that increase the direct costs in health sector (such as introduction of fees in public hospital), then families prioritize son’s health over daughters. There will be disproportionate negative impact on women’s health (especially pregnant women). For that reason, feminists have to engage with politics as well as economics of government budget.
Gender conservatism by anti-democracy or failed states
In the late–twentieth century we have witnessed the rise of religio-political movements in various parts of the world. This religious politics is synonymous with fundamentalism. Most religio-political movements support a return to more patriarchal and gender-unequal view of religion and society. Many issues involving the treatment of women that fundamentalists of different cultures put forth are literally life and death issues of women. Fundamentalist religious and nationalist forces in civil society that are fostered by and provide support for neoconservative policies which focus on controlling women’s lives and bodies represent the most reactionary responses to global restructuring.
For example, orthodox mullahs (Muslim religious leaders) defended fatwapractice in the name of Islam. They spoke out in favour of fatwa. In Bangladesh one union namely “Kalikpur” located in the Madaripur district, women are still prohibited from going to the polling centres because of local fatwa’s declaring that it is not appropriate for women to vote. Another widespread use of the so-called marriage “Hillah” in rural Bangladesh has to be removed immediately. But the interesting point is that, the oral divorce had been already outlawed by the article-7 of the Muslim family law ordinance 1961, whereas in the absence of oral divorce there is no provision for the use of Hillah. The local village headmen called “Matobbor” often abuse their power by imposing the term “Hillah” on the orally divorced couple. There are a lot of case studies available which are enough to be evidenced for the frequent and diversified use of the Hillah. We can depict a severe picture of using Hillah from mere a case study taken from a village of Adamdighi upazilla of Bogra district. The victim’s name is Murshida aged only 24. After being orally divorced, she had to be getting married with a 70-years old beggar. As a result, the 7 years long family life of the 3 children mother has been destructed.
Current feminists scholars have also acknowledged that control of women’s behaviour is high on the fundamentalist agenda. Women are central to the fundamentalist ideology. When fundamentalist groups gain influence or authority, even without the added stress of war or riots, there is a rise of concern about women’s behaviour, women’s sexuality is controlled and policed, their personal space is rigid, their movement regulated. They impose dress code over women as well as many other impositions such as Muslim fundamentalist impose veil.
This has been recently happening in Bangladesh, where right wing religious forces have not only instigated extra judicial proceedings and punishments against individual women, but have also fomented attacks on NGOs including the women’s credit programme of Grameen Bank, the educational programmes of BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) as well as community based family planning activities as apart of their struggle for political power in the country. Fundamentalists are upset that social, political, economic and cultural changes have affected the public sphere and the family.
More attention to women’s issues and rights internationally–UN and NGOs
Now a days, in modern states, women’s formal or informal organizations at national level have raised social issues and engaged in networking that provided the glue to hold society together. Today women have expanded their organizations to the global stage and broadened the scope for their concerns including population, environment, technology, energy and human rights. This process was encouraged and enhanced by the United Nations World conferences for women since the early 1970s. Today NGOs and women‘s organizations are increasingly throwing challenge to the power and scope of traditional political institutions within the state and lobby international agencies to re-interpret development policies.
Most international NGOs have affiliation with local NGOs at the national level in several countries. The objectives of international NGOs are to monitor activities within the United Nations system of concern to their membership and to persuade the General Assembly to pass resolutions, stating goals for national as well international action. They provide the national NGOs with a powerful tool that can be used to alter policies in their respective countries. This policy role of INGOs was greatly enhanced as a result of series of consciousness-raising world conferences that the UN convened, starting in 1972. Women’s social movements and NGOs that have grown up outside formal political channels are making trans-national linkages related to women’s subordinations.
Women’s organizations have thrived in the post-cold war environment, taking advantages of the positive elements of globalization. Their successes has been nurtured by a series of international conferences sponsored by the United Nations and by various advances in international norm-setting, including UN convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Bangladesh has ratified the CEDAW Convention except Articles (2) and 16.1 (c). Withdrawal of reservation on these two Articles is under review.
Women scholars and activists believe that the women’s movement has already irrevocably changed society. Women need to peruse all variable paths to power and influence, in women only and mainstream NGOs, in non-conventional community organizations, and the political parties. The expanding civil society gives greater space to people’s organizations and so allows greater opportunities for women to shape their own future. NGOs like BRAC, Grameen Bank, Prosika, ASK, Democracy Watch, Women for Women are aware of and putting their best efforts to create better opportunities and hope to increase womens capabilities.
Gender Implications of Social Globalization
Researchers hold the same opinion that globalization is transforming the familiar organizational structures of society, although there is less agreement on what these changes require. On the other hand, it is suggested that the extreme absorption of the mass media, the film industry and publishing into the hands of few companies and individuals is leading to a homogenous global mass culture. In this connection, the following few issues are discussed as a gender implications of social globalization.
International marketing of sex-trafficking
As a consequence of SAP, most developing countries are directed to cut government expenditure by reducing subsidies and social welfare benefits and women are becoming deprived of as the major recipient of those benefits. Thus, increasing responsibly to raise family income is often shouldered upon women leading to labour force participation especially in export-oriented garment factories and international migrant labour in different professions like nursing, maidservant. In both cases, women are victim of wage discrimination, leisure deprivation due to over-timework loads, and sexual harassment by employers.
Moreover, international marketing of sex trafficking of women and girls has become a roaring trans-national business. According to International Organization for Migration, trafficking women involves activities including “… facilitating the illegal movement of migrated women to other countries, with or without their consent or knowledge; deceiving migrant women about the purpose of the migration, legal or illegal; physically or sexually abusing migrant women for the purpose of, employment, marriage, prostitution or other forms of profit-making abuse”.
Most of the Bangladeshi women victims of cross-border trafficking, as a case of example, are sold in the brothels or forcibly engaged in bonded labour in receiving countries like India, Pakistan and Middle East countries. According to an estimate, over 200000 Bangladeshi women were trafficked between 1990 and 1997 through the route following Dhaka – Mumbai- Karachi- Dubai and many of the victims end up in brothels for forced prostitution in Pakistan and India or as sex slaves of affluent people of Middle Eastern countries. Most of these exported women’s bodies are controlled by trans-national syndicates which makes billion dollars profit. When women are trafficked to Pakistan, Bangladeshi traffickers or their agents often misguide law-enforcing agencies by marrying the victims in order to protect them from being prosecuted under the Islamic Hudoot Act in force in the country. The Government of Bangladesh, in its report submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), has acknowledged such evidence.
International efforts earlier in this century sought to develop its human rights dimension. International Organizations have been influential in creating multilateral force, providing forums thin which the debate on trafficking issue can be incorporated in the international agenda. The 1979 United Nations CEDAW calls on the states to suppress all forms of trafficking in women and the exploitation of sex work. The United Nations and the European Union began to take up these questions. It is clear that stronger cooperative efforts by governments, international organizations are needed to stop this trans-national criminal activities that abuse vulnerable women and girls.
Tourism, cosmetic surgeries
When government promote tourism as a currency earning growth strategy, business Mafias count prostitution as part and parcel of it. Local young women are as seen as a sexual pool for tourists, regardless of the social consequences or the risks and side effects for the women themselves. Girls dancing in the sex clubs of Bangkok are often no more than ten years old. Moreover, the Thai embassy in Moscow receives nearly a thousand visa applications every day from Ukrainian women, who are much hunted in the Thai and Japanese flesh trade and marriage markets where novelty is always at a premium. When these women often infected with HIV return to their country of origin, their family may no longer take them in. Sociologist Ulrich Koch addresses these are the products of globalisation .
Marketing strategies to expand global market of luxury goods by Trans national companies (TNCs) often exploit the physical beauty of women for their promotional activities. Cosmetic surgery is, therefore, promoted as a new trend in developed countries, which is supposed to be expensive but increase women’s bodily exposure. Moreover, beauty contest across the countries leading to Miss Universe competition is thought to be one kind of strategy developed to promote women as a product in the mask of so-called modelling.
Now a days, many Bangladeshi organizations (including multinational companies) are promoting such kind of competition and using female as their business strategy. Even motor car exhibition, people will find nice bodily exposed female who is standing beside car to promote that goods. Beauty contest, fashion shows are now common events in Bangladesh and even parents encourage their daughters for such kind of programmes. For that matter, more women are going beauty parlour to increase their physical beauties and even they are taking help of expensive cosmetic surgeries.
Clash of culture (civilizations) around differing views women
Globalization introduces multi-dimensional trends in cultural practices across the world, which sometimes contradicts with existing traditional one. Therefore, clash of culture remains as the common scenario in the third world countries. For example, now a day’s young woman in Bangladesh wear T-shirt, jeans with modern hair-cut. Western men clothing symbolized modernity and progressive attitude, while the women with shari and salwer kamiz had the task of preserving tradition. Even today, most women return to traditional dress after they get married.
Another terrific and well-known example of the detrimental influence of introducing new foods to replace traditional practices is bottle-feeding of infants instead of breast-feeding. In Bangladesh, due to aggressive sales promotion by the milk companies, many poor mothers have switched from breast-feeding to bottle-feeding their babies. Because of this pressure from the milk companies and the prevailing consumer culture, women lose confidence in breast-feeding and themselves as mothers. Breast-feeding is no longer considered modern and a mother is led to believe that she is denying the best for her baby if she does not give the bottle. As a result, breast-feeding rates have been declining in Bangladesh as well as in the other developing countries.
From the economic point of view, globalization is regarded as the success from which every one benefits. Employment gains and market mechanisms promote competition among countries resulting in better quality of goods and services available for the consumer. But LDCs are not in a position to reap the benefits of the system due to their backwardness and colonial past; rather they are increasingly becoming the market of goods produced by most developed countries. Evidence shows that women are harvesting profit from the removal of barriers to markets and cultures through improved technological skills and therefore shape their lives toward advancement in their career.
On the contrary, the political and social aspects demonstrate that the group of winners is not exactly large. Women of Bangladesh are now being exploited as a piece-rate worker in export industries, worker who are living abroad and sending back foreign currency, sex workers or catalogue brides, marriage markets and the voluntary worker who help to absorb the shock of social cutbacks initiated by the structural adjustment.
In a context where the general sense of security is being lost, women manage to create a number of little certainties-especially in the social domain, but also in the management of daily life and nourishment, in ecology, in culture and politics and civil society. Now a day’s, in Bangladesh, old family ties are being eroded, the state and capital are forsaking their responsibilities and competitions, male violence and social tensions are escalating. For the majority of women, neo-liberal globalization does not solicit implicit claim to justice and prosperity; it is not the promised win-win game, but is creating a future inequality all around the world. Finally, as a member of global village- the fundamental theme of globalization, women across the globe are in the process of helping the empowerment of the next generation of women activists who will build on the valuable foundation laid by their foremothers.
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Marianne H. Marchand and Anne Sisson Runyan, Feminist Sightings to Global Restructuring: Conceptualizations and Reconceptualizations, in Marianne H. Marchand et al. (eds), “Gender and Global Restructuring”, The RIPE Series in Global Political Economy, London and New York, 2000, p. 3.
Erhard Berner and D. Conyers, Globalization and Local Development: An Introduction, LRD Reader (Institute of Social Studies), 2003/2004,p.1.
See Marianne H. Marchand and Anne Sisson Runyan, Op. cit., p. 4.
See Erhard Berner and D. Conyers, Op. cit., p. 2.
Uma Kotari, Martin Minogue, and Jocelyn DeJong, The Political Economy of Globalization, inKotari, Uma, Minogue, Martin (eds.), “Development Theory and Practice: Critical perspective”, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002, p. 29.
Haleh Afser and Barrientos (eds.), Women, Globalization and Fragmentation in the Developing World, Macmillan Press Ltd, 1999, pp. 8-9.
Jane Jaquettee, “Feminism and the Challenges of the Post-Cold War World”, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 5(3), 2003, p. 341.
Ibid., pp. 336-337.
Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliament Affairs, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh 1998, The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Kamal Uddin Ahmed, “Women and Politics in Bangladesh”, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh (Hum.) Vol. 50, 2005, pp. 519-540.
See Marianne H. Marchand and Anne Sisson Runyan, Op. cit., p. 18.
See Kamal Uddin Ahmed, Op. cit., p. 529
The Daily Prothom-Alo, Dhaka, 15 January, 2003.
B. Winter, “Fundamental Misunderstandings: Issues in Feminist Approaches to Islamism, with Commentary”, by Rifat Hasan, Valentine Moghadam and Margot Badran, plus a rejoinder, in Journal of Women History, Vol. 13(1), 2001.
L.P. Freedman, The Challenge of Fundamentalisms, “Reproductive Health Matters”, WGD Reader, Institute of Social Studies, Vol. 8, 1998, p. 62.
L.P. Freeman, ‘The Challenge of fundamentalisms’, WLUML dossier 19, 1998, pp. 1-30.
Irene Tinker, Nongovernmental organizations: An Alternative Power Base for Women?, in Mary K. Meyer, and Elisabeth Prugl, (eds), “Gender Politics in Global Governance”, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Maryland, USA, 1999, p. 88.
Ibid., pp. 89-90.
Ann J. Tickner, Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post-Cold War Era”, Columbia University Press, 2001, p. 116.
See Jane Jaquettee, Op. cit., p. 334.
See Irene Tinker, Op. cit., pp.102-103.
See Marianne H. Marchand and Anne Sisson Runyan, Op. cit., p. 6.
Emek M. Ucarer, Trafficking in Women: Alternative Migration or Modern Slave Trade?, in Mary K. Meyer, and Elisabeth Prugl, (eds), “Gender Politics in Global Governance”, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Maryland, USA 1999, p. 232.
BNWLA (Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Associations), Violence against Women in Bangladesh, Dhaka, 2001, pp. 43-46.
Jutta Joachim, Shaping the Human Rights Agenda: The Case of Violence against Women, in Mary K. Meyer and Elisabeth Prugl (eds.), “Gender Politics in Global Governance”, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Maryland, USA, 1999, pp. 142-159.
Christa Wichterich, The Globalized Women: Reports from a Future of Inequality, Zed Books Ltd, London and New York 2000, pp. 63-64 (Translated by Camiller, Patrick).
Ibid., p. 131.
Ibid., pp. 166-168.
Nancy Naples, Changing the Terms: Community Activism, Globalization, and the Dilemmas of Transnational Feminist Praxis, in Chapter one in Nancy Naples, and Manisha Desai (eds.), “Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics”, Routledge, London, 2002, p. 13.