Gender and the global labour market

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Gender and the global labour market

Bojana Ziberna, University of Maribor

In this article we look briefly at the impact of globalization in terms of opportunities and challenges faced by women who are entering global labour markets in great numbers.

What is gender?

The term gender refers to the expected social position of men and women, meaning the ascribed roles and expected behaviour of the individual that is considered to belong to the category of man or woman. Roles, relations and expectations are different in different times, spaces and cultures. Gender role is the term used for a set of norms which men and women are conditioned to respect in society. Gender roles are different in different cultures and the expectations of society concerning norms and behaviours men or women should respect vary. Gender roles are also dependent on the level of the development of social relations between men and women and also their social status. Age and the level of education are more important factors when it comes to explain differences in gender role orientation in women than they are for the case of men. More differences exist among women than among men (Calvo-Salguero, Garcia-Martinez and Monteoliva, 2008).

Globalization and women's labour

The globalization process influences gender roles and relations. On one hand we can say globalization provides opportunities for women to enter the workforce and reach more economical independency, however we can say that globalization strengthens gender inequalities such as wage difference. Women receive low wages and are victims of various types of abuse: Women earn less money than men do for doing the same jobs: women earn only 77.5 cents for every dollar men earn (Mickelson, 2003). For those working in factories, the conditions in which they are working are often unhealthy, sometimes dangerous with shifts of up to 24 hours, exposure to sexual harassment and impossibility of belonging to labour unions (Rowling 2001). Multinational corporations constantly seek cheaper outsourced labour and for their production in the global south. They use a method of subcontracting with local firms (Balakrishnan, 2002), who employ a large proportion of women who work at home and are poorly paid at piece-rate. Women user the skills they use in an everyday domestic context, such as sewing, to earn a living, but their isolation reduces their awareness of labour rights. Women are preferred as workers because they are on the whole poorer, not so frequently union members, and as the number of women-headed households increases (United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, 2007) their urgent need to provide for their children and other dependants is easier to exploit.

Women and migration

Women’s participation in the global labour market is by no means restricted to employment in their own localities or countries. Women often have to emigrate to find work. Diaz and Kuhner noted that on a global scale the number of women migrants has been as large as the number of men migrants since the 1960s. Women migrate to find a work, to ensure additional income to support their families at home. They often leave their children behind with members of their extended family but also ever more women migrate with their young children (Diaz and Kuhner 2007).


The process of globalization of labour markets has given an opportunity for increased economic independence for women, but has had an impact on men, who have to some extent lost their dominant position in the family. According to Haller and Hoellinger, increased participation of women in the labour force should be followed sooner or later by a corresponding adaptation of gender role attitudes towards more egalitarian values (Haller and Hoellinger, 1994).


Balakrishnan, Radhika (ed.). (2002). The Hidden Assembly Line: Gender Dynamics of Subcontracted Work in a Global Economy. Bloomfield: Kumarian Press.

Calvo-Salguero, A., Garcia-Martinez, J. M. A., Monteoliva A. (2008). Differences Between and Within Genders in Gender Role Orientation According to Age and Level of Education. Sex Roles, 58, 535-548.

Diaz, G. and Kuhner, G (2007), Women Migrants in Transit and Detention in Mexico, Migration Information Source accessed 2nd June 2008

Haller, M., Hoellinger, F. (1994). Female Employment and the Change of Gender Roles: The conflictual relationship between participation and attitudes in international comparison. International Sociology, 9(1), 87-112.

Mickelson, R. A. (2003). Gender, Bourdieu, and the Anomaly of Women's Achievement Redux. Sociology of Education, 76(4), 373-375.

Rowling, M. (December 2001) Sea change - Women - labor unions and women's issues in export factories, New Internationalist United Nations Division for the Advancement for Women, accessed 23rd June 2008