Economic Globalization And Gender Research Paper

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Economic globalization and gender is a topic that has grown in importance since the 1970s. Although ‘globalization’ has occurred in specific periods for centuries, it was not until the early 1970s that attention was drawn to the importance of understanding the gendered effects of economic globalization and, in turn, their implications for sustainable human development.

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1. Definition And Context

Economic globalization involves a wide variety of processes, opportunities, and problems related to the spread of economic activities among countries around the world. There have been many periods in which it occurred, most recently including the latter nineteenth century to WWI, the quarter century after WWII, and the late 1960s early 1970s to the present.

The latest period has involved several major trends, as capitalism has spread throughout more of the world. First, there has been an increased reliance on markets (versus government involvement in the economy) by most nations (including industrialized countries, developing countries, and formerly socialist countries like China with over one-fifth of the world’s population). Second, many developing countries have shifted to the more open export-oriented approach based on production for external trade from an import substitution development strategy (production of essential goods for the internal market). Third, multinational corporations (MNCs) in manufacturing, service, and finance sectors have moved into new tiers of countries and have established burgeoning networks of subcontractors in many areas. Fourth, since the late 1970s, economic globalization has also involved structural adjustment policies (SAPs), mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a condition for granting countries loans. SAPs require governments to take many steps that further promote globalization. They also require austerity measures that fall heavily on the poor, particularly women. Fifth, there have been shifts in the power of key institutions internationally. On the one hand, the influence of many national governments has been eroded by the rising importance of institutions like the MNCs, the IMF, and World Bank (WB), and trade organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). On the other hand, there has been an increase in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) advocating for the rights of groups of citizens (see Pyle 1999 for more information regarding each of these five trends).

Economic globalization has involved an increase in the international movements of goods and services, capital (portfolio investments or foreign direct investment by MNCs), and labor as people migrate for employment. This phase of globalization has been particularly facilitated by changes in technology (telecommunications and information technology) and transportation (UNDP 1999). It is often characterized as ‘neoliberalism’ because it is putatively based on increased reliance on markets (and correspondingly less on governments), liberalization of trade and investment policies, and a growing openness among economies. However, economic globalization has occurred in a very uneven manner. Countries are integrated into the global economy to very different degrees (UNDP 1999). This has resulted in rising inequality and tension, which are increasingly considered the flip side of the increased reliance on market forces and the changes in the international power structure. In the 1970s, scholars began to explore the gendered impacts of changes in the global economy. Gender has both a biological dimension (categorization as male or female) and socially constructed components. The latter reflect a society’s views regarding appropriate roles for men and women and are reinforced by economic, political, social, cultural, and religious institutions. Global organizations such as MNCs and the IMF often use these social constructions to their advantage; however, globalization can undermine them or cause them to be more firmly defended. This research paper outlines the importance of the evolving study of the gendered impacts of economic globalization, the current issues regarding research, theory, and methodology, and likely future directions.

2. History And Changing Emphases

Before the 1970s, women or gender issues were rarely mentioned in the development literature. That changed with the publication of Boserup’s (1970) book Woman’s Role in Economic Development. Most regard this as a turning point that spurred thinking about women in the development process and initiated what has become a very large literature. The conceptual approaches taken and the strategies for change they imply have, however, changed over the years. Scholars and activists associated with the Women in Development (WID) approach of the 1970s sought to make women’s roles visible. Women’s issues typically were tacked on to existing approaches or institutions, however, rather than fundamentally integrated. WID focused on individuals and on fostering change within existing structures. Seeing these limitations, others developed a focus on gender. This approach emphasized unequal power relations between men and women and the ways they are institutionalized in households, culture, schools and religious organizations, the state, and international organizations. (See Kabeer 1994 and Visvanathan et al. 1997 for more information on this history; see Visvanathan et al. 1997 for selected readings.)

In the 1990s, the international political economy changed considerably with the ending of the Cold War and the impetus this provided to all the dimensions of globalization listed above. The discourse shifted to examination of the gendered impacts of economic globalization, broadening the focus to include gendered effects in all countries—industrialized and formerly socialist as well as those the development literature has concentrated on—and adding important dimensions to the analysis. For example, since globalization has involved increasing movements of people as well as goods, services, and capital, many industrialized countries have immigrants from developing countries who have been profoundly affected by these forces. This conceptualization includes them.

In spite of these substantive changes, and although gender increasingly is recognized as a relevant perspective, there continued to be a lack of attention to gender in the 1990s by most economists and many sociologists specializing in the study of development or globalization. Feminists continued to break new ground, however, in exploring these issues. Feminist sociologists have long critiqued approaches to development such as modernization, dependency, and world systems theories. (See Ward 1993 for an example regarding the world system approach.) Feminist economists have asked new types of questions, transformed some traditional economic approaches to include gender, and posed alternative approaches to development (Beneria 1995, 1999, Sen and Grown 1987, World Development 1995). Many now recognize the critical importance of understanding the gendered impact of these dimensions of economic globalization—and their impact, in turn, on growth and sustainable human development. For example, it has been found that low investment in women’s education, often a result of SAPs, can hinder a country’s economic growth (World Bank 2001).

These conceptual changes and the activism they spawned since the 1970s have fostered the rise of NGOs, many of which were founded to alleviate the effects of globalization and to address women’s needs. International institutions have been forced to incorporate gender issues into their thinking, planning, and programs. The United Nations designated 1975 the International Year for Women. It held World Conferences on Women in 1975, 1980, 1985, and 1995, bringing people together from around the world to assess the status of women and draft policy recommendations to address gender inequalities. Special divisions have been established within the UN and the WB; considerable information and data have been collected (United Nations 2000). The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has emphasized human development throughout the 1990s; its annual Human De elopment Report focused on gender and human security in 1995 and globalization with a human face in 1999 (UNDP 1995, 1999).

There have been critiques of the efforts of these institutions to mainstream gender issues. In response, these organizations have developed more inclusive approaches, engaged experts in the field of gender and development as employees or consultants, and established substantive websites to disseminate information and invite discussion. The UN sponsored Beijing Plus 5 in 2000 to assess progress for women since the 1995 Conference on Women in China. The WB published a new report that focuses on the importance of gender for development and examines the factors that affect gender equality (WB 2001). Particularly active in advocating for women is the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which grew out of the First World Conference on Women. UNIFEM Director Heyzer drafted an Agenda for Women in the twenty-first century (Heyzer 1995). UNIFEM’s new volume (UNIFEM 2000) is designed to help women hold powerful institutions accountable for gendered outcomes of globalization—including the UN, IMF and WB, MNCs and other businesses, and civil society organizations such as unions, community-based groups, and business or professional associations.

3. Current Issues

Because economic globalization and gender is a broad topic with multiple dimensions, this section can only highlight some of the key issues scholars and activists are addressing regarding research, theory, and methodology. Newer work is beginning to cross disciplinary boundaries, offering opportunities to examine the gendered effects of globalization from perspectives that may include economics, sociology, political science, gender studies, or anthropology. Increasingly, women from the Third World are shaping the questions asked, the type of research conducted, the methodologies used, the policy recommendations suggested, and the activist endeavors undertaken (Heyzer 1995, Kabeer 1994, Sen and Grown 1987).

As economic activities become more global, some benefit, but the hardships of many others are increased. There are many aspects that can be considered in assessing the differing effects of globalization on men’s and women’s income earning opportunities and household economic responsibilities—including access to employment in formal or informal sector jobs, wages and earnings (relative to the amount required for a reasonable standard of living), the types of occupations, job conditions (health and safety, rights to organize, work-life balance), opportunities for skill acquisition and promotion, and the effects of all these on one’s position in the household and community. The analysis is complicated, however, because research reveals that the impact also varies by class, race ethnicity, age, and other attributes. Ironically, although technological advances are a foundation of this phase of globalization, and even though technology offers a possible means for women to access information, develop broader networks of support, and increase their standards of living, women do not have the necessary access and are not receiving equal benefits of technological advances.

The internationalization of basic economic activities—production, trade, and finance—produces effects that differ by gender. The globalization of trade can have divergent effects on women. For example, if women work in sectors producing goods for international trade, they may benefit from economic globalization—as long as they make a living wage and their employer (often a MNC or its subcontractor) remains in their area. Many female small business owners are forced out of business by the cheaper imports that trade liberalization brings. Gender differences in the impact of trade typically have not been considered as trade organizations such as the WTO formulate policies.

Much production (clothing, electronics, toys, shoes, and sporting goods) and provision of services (data entry, reservations, business services) have moved internationally, becoming part of the ‘global assembly line.’ Many MNCs prefer lower cost women workers who they believe are unlikely to resist adverse conditions. Women working in MNCs or their subcontracting networks often consider this employment a better option than otherwise available. However, working conditions can be oppressive, characterized by long hours, fast pace, few breaks, no opportunities for advancement, harassment, and unsafe and unhealthy workplaces. In addition, such employment is precarious. When labor costs rise as workers seek to improve their conditions, MNCs use some combination of automating and new technologies, suppressing worker demands, moving to other developing countries with lower labor costs, or establishing subcontracting networks where workers are lower cost and can be terminated immediately. These strategies typically have adverse effects on women.

Financial globalization involves not only foreign direct investment by MNCs but also portfolio investment (buying selling of stocks) and international loans and aid. As conditions for receiving loans, the IMF and WB typically require countries to adopt SAPs. These involve opening their borders to foreign trade and cutting government employment and expenditures on health, education, housing, and food subsidies. The IMF argues these policies will increase revenues needed for loan repayment. The effects of SAPs fall heavily on women, however, who try to maintain their families’ standards of living. They take on added household responsibilities (to compensate for decreased government services) and obtain extra income earning activities, often in the informal sector.

As a result of these economic aspects of globalization, many women are increasingly pushed into the informal economy (Moghadam 1998, Pyle 1999). Poverty levels rise. Large numbers of women, particularly from lower-income Asian countries, are forced to migrate internationally to find employment, often leaving families behind. Women in many countries must resort to earning a living as domestics or sex workers. Conditions in these occupations can be highly exploitative.

As a result of background studies in these areas, scholars are developing a broader theoretical under- standing of the systemic linkages among the global expansion of capitalist production, trade, and finance and the increases of women in the informal sector, rising inequality and female poverty, and higher levels of female migration (Pyle 1999). Feminist perspectives are being used to question and transform orthodox models of human behavior and, in turn, their implications for understanding the gendered impacts of globalization (Beneria 1999).

Research on economic globalization and gender involves problems, however, that include: gaining acceptance for new concepts that challenge and replace traditional views, operationalizing concepts empirically, obtaining appropriate data, developing alternative policies, and fundamentally reconsidering the usefulness of current approaches and institutions (whether they can be transformed or new ones are needed). For example, the reconceptualization of women’s ‘work’ to include unpaid work in the house- hold is controversial; there are conflicts about how to measure and value it. In addition, to adequately examine the gendered effects of globalization, data that measure the desired concepts and is comparable cross-country must be available. However, many countries have little data available; in others, information may be incomplete or of questionable quality.

There are the dilemmas involved in developing alternatives to policies like SAPs. Such innovative policies would enable countries to obtain loans but the focus would be on how to foster sustainable human development and gender equality rather than on how to ensure loan repayment. There is also the key question of what the focus of strategies for change should be—whether on changing the individual’s position or the group’s (and, if the group, at what level—family, community, nation, region, international) and whether to increase women’s capabilities or confront the social, economic, and political structures that disadvantage or discriminate against females. This is particularly important to think carefully about, given the context of the larger shift in the distribution of power (from national governments to MNCs and international organizations like the IMF).

4. Future Directions

In the future, there will be continued progress in the creation of concepts and theories that enhance our understanding of the gendered impacts of globalization and the importance of these effects for sustainable human development. This work will be based on new ways of looking at issues, a wider array of studies of the gendered effects of globalization, and analyses that examine the more nuanced and complex patterns that emerge from such studies. This research may also involve the generation of new methodologies. As in the past, these concepts and theories will be important for developing strategies for change.

To illustrate each of these points briefly, scholars and activists will continue to develop and extend new concepts and perspectives. For example, concepts such as ‘caring labor’ will be acknowledged, respected, and utilized more widely (UNDP 1999). There will be increased attention to the gender dimensions of the insecurity created by globalization. Beneria is examining women’s security globally, focusing on women’s different employment problems, paid unpaid labor share, female-headed households, and economic restructuring. By fully understanding the many aspects of insecurity, better policies can be developed to address them.

Newer methodologies may be developed based on these innovative conceptualizations and perspectives; existing methods will be extended and made more gender sensitive. For example, work will continue on the construction of broader indicators that measure women’s well-being, economic security, and progress in participating more fully in economic, political, and social life.

Each of the issues outlined in the last section will be more fully studied at many levels of analysis—from the household level to the international. Multilevel analyses reveal more of the two-way linkages between the microand macrolevels. Not only do macroeconomic changes have gendered impacts on people and households at the microlevel, but microlevel processes contribute to macroeconomic well-being. For example, studies have shown that when women have access to income (a microlevel event often shaped by macrolevel forces), their children are healthier and better educated and, in turn, contribute more to sustainable development (WB 2001).

Case studies that explore the gendered effects of globalization on people who differ by culture, race ethnicity, class, age, sector, and region as well as sex will shed considerable light on the role of these factors in shaping the gendered effects of economic globalization. This will provide insight into what broader socioeconomic changes may be needed for more gender equality as globalization continues.

Along with these advances, there will be continued fundamental challenges to disciplines that study development and globalization and their theoretical underpinnings (Beneria 1999). Disciplinary approaches will be recast to integrate gender perspectives; new interdisciplinary paradigms or areas of study may be created.

Women will continue to resist adverse effects of globalization and seek to improve their positions. Creative strategies will be crafted to enhance women’s capabilities, empower them, and increase their socioeconomic security. These approaches will include access to and creative use of new technologies. NGOs will extend their work in these areas—not only locally or within a country, but increasingly at national, regional, or international levels. For example, as the gendered effects of globalization are more widely recognized, people in similar jobs or situations worldwide (e.g., sweatshops) may form alliances in order to address the problems they face.

There will be efforts to increase women’s voices at all levels of government and develop ways to strengthen the state, an institution that can still be important for garnering the benefits and combating the problems of worldwide economic changes although its power has been eroded by forces such as MNCs and the IMF’s structural adjustment policies. There may be continued changes in the level of awareness of gendered effects of globalization by international institutions (WB and IMF, UN and its many divisions, and the ILO) and in their interest and ability to design programs and policies to alleviate the adverse impacts. It is also possible that entirely new forms of global governance will be created that are more gender aware and focus on human development (health, education, safety, and opportunities for employment and income earning) rather than on finance and trade (UNDP 1999).


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