18. ECONOMIC GLOBALIZATION & ITS
IMPACT ON WOMEN
What is Globalization?
Globalization is a term widely used to
express the idea of making the whole world follow one culture, that is,
the consumer culture. The nature of globalization is to
incorporate the world into the capitalist market. In this process
the diverse local cultures are being replaced by the uniculture of the
market. Production and sales are improved to the level of export
oriented quality with the expectation that this is going to transform
the life of the people. But what is the reality? As I
mentioned, the purpose of globalization is to promote the market
economy. In this market-oriented production process only the
leading companies with the aim of profit making will be
benefited. Especially in India, only the top 5% of the people
will benefit. The poor, Dalits, tribals, marginalised, women and
children will be the most negatively affected.
How did it all begin?
It all began with the colonization
process. The Asian countries close to the equator are enriched
with abundant natural resources and great potential for agrarian
development. The Western colonial powers who invaded Asia in the 16th
century found the climate and natural resources viable for establishing
their rule, and made these countries their colonies. They exploited not
only the wealth of these nations but also their labor power.
While the native kings and feudal lords who allied with the colonial
masters became rich, the vast majority became poor and
downtrodden. Nearly 300 years of colonization made these
countries poor and underdeveloped.
After the II World War, the colonies engaged in a
long struggle for independence. Although they became independent
nations, the long period of colonial rule made these nations dependent
upon the so called `developed countries' for their day-to-day economic
To develop their industries the poor countries of
Asia had to look to the costly import of science and technology from
Europe and America. As a result, these countries became indebted
and had to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF)* for
loans. Having no other alternative, many third world countries
availed themselves of the IMF loans, accepting the tough economic
requirements known as "Structural Adjustment." These requirements
indirectly brought the death knell to the people of these
countries. MNCs* were invited in with little or no
restrictions; land was grabbed on a large scale, taking the very source
of survival of countless agricultural laborers. Subsidies were
cut to vital sectors like health and family welfare, education, and the
public distribution system (PDS). So, once again, a
neo-colonization process is taking place, redistributing wealth and
power to the `developed' from the `underdeveloped' nations.
*IMF - International Monetary Fund, an agency of
United Nations Organization, provides loans for developing countries,
among them, India, under strict terms and conditions known as
"Structural Adjustment Programs" or SAP's.
*MNC - Multi National Corporations are
companies based in one country, but which produce and sell products in
different countries. In collaboration with local business people,
they hold immense economic power over nations. Some of the
wellknown MNC's operating in India are: Honda, Suzuki, Maggi, Johnson
& Johnson, Palmolive and Rupert Murdoch's Star TV.
The Indian Context:
As in many other Asian countries, India is also in
the midst of economic troubles. The economic policies of
successive governments for the last 50 years have not met the basic
needs of the majority of the people, especially the rural poor and the
Through India's mixed economic policy, successive
governments encouraged private ownership and the public sector units
declined. Imports exceeded exports and in 1990 India faced a
severe economic crisis. This necessitated accepting Structural
Adjustment Programme (SAP) dictated by the IMF in order to receive the
loans necessary to repay its foreign debts with interest. India's
foreign debt was around 20 billion dollars in the early 1980s. It
skyrocketed to 70 billion in 1991 and 90 billion dollars in 1994
(Ambrose Pinto 1997). As a result the country today is deeply in
SAP and Deteriorating Condition of Women:
Since the July 1991 economic measures, large sectors
of the rural population in India were forced into `chronic starvation'
(Desmond D'Abreo, 1995). In November 1991, 73 handloom weavers
died of starvation in two districts of Andhra Pradesh, with deaths also
in Kalahandi (Orissa), Hazaribagh (Bihar) and Varanasi
(UP). It was promised that SAP would eliminate poverty and
hunger; rather, it is eliminating the poor! In India, where women and
girls eat less and last, they are most likely to be the victims of
starvation. If 50% of India's females were suffering from
malnutrition before SAP, it is not difficult to guess their fate now.
Under SAP conditionalities, the government has to
cut subsidies to the agricultural sector, to rural development
programs, to basic education and to rural health and welfare oriented
programs. The government has not cared for the sixty crore people
in India living in rural areas.
What about rural women and their needs?
In agriculture, the shift from food crops to cash
crops for export has led to a decline in women's employment.
Women's contribution in the total labor force is nearly
invisible. 95% of Indian women are working in the unorganized
sector. Women work more than 16 hours a day, both in production
and in producing the country's labor force. Since India is a
rural country, 80% of all working women are working as agricultural
laborers. Women's "double burden" includes the invisible
uncounted work of managing the house, child bearing and rearing,
feeding the family, cleaning, arranging, organizing, maintaining the
health and wealth of the family, serving and satisfying the needs of
husband, in-laws, children, even guests.
Proverbs 31 pictures an ideal woman. It also
commands: “Give her a share in what her hands have worked for,
and let her works tell her praises at the city gates” (v. 31).
But does anybody do it? In fact 25-45 % of
families live only on the income of their women folk, who are the bread
winners of their families. But their labor is not
recognized. They are treated as cheap, unorganized, unrecognized
laborers. This condition will get worse if the nation continues to
follow the SAP programs.
Impact of Industrialization:
The rich and middle classes are enjoying increasing
variety and availability of consumer goods produced to the standards of
the global market, while the poor have to fight for their daily bread,
primary education and basic health facilities. Many girls do not
even get the chance to enter the primary level of education.
Present literacy rates of Indian females is 39.42% (1991).
This may go down because of the effects of privatization.
I had a chance to talk to girls who are working in
garment export factories in Bangalore and Tiruppur (Tamilnadu) the
famous places which are involved in engaging young women in this
job. One girl from a Tiruppur banian (knitwear) factory, who left
it and joined a theology course, has shared her experiences.
Almost all the girls undergo the same kinds of problems which she
shared with me, as follows:
Garment export factories employ young women to
produce garments for export to Germany, Japan and USA. The women
have to work for more than 10 hours in a polluted atmosphere and get
very low wages. Their health is affected; because of low wages
they are not able to eat properly. Women who sit for 10 hours at
a large electronic tailoring machine experience malfunctioning of their
reproductive system. Women are prone to menstruate twice a month,
and they suffer with constant pain in the abdomen. Minor
accidents during stitching time cause havoc in their total body
systems. Women who are already malnourished and in poor health
are subject to the further pressures of output quotas, the supervisor's
demands, and a stress filled factory environment.
It should be noted that most of the church related
projects are running tailoring programs in the name of "Women's
Development." We need to ask ourselves if we are producing a
skilled and docile labor force for making the garment export factories
At the same time, the Church is not critical about
the cultural influences and economic domination of globalisation.
Mass media and commercial advertising is a fast growing and powerful
industry, promoting false values of life. Materialism,
consumerism, individualism, and an emphasis upon physical beauty are a
few of them. It is time for church women to take an option for
life. We, as Christian women, have a role in challenging the
world and reconstructing history from women's perspective.
The Churches in India and the World Council of
Churches have a rich ecumenical tradition. The WCC's sign, called
`OIKOUMENE,' symbolises the whole inhabited earth. The Bible
tells us that `The earth is the Lord's and all that is therein,' (Ps.
24:1), which means everything belongs to God, and calls us to
responsible stewardship. `Oikoumene' is derived from the same
root word as `economics' and `ecology.' The original meaning of
stewardship is economic management and care for the earth, our
home. So, we are called to be responsible stewards of God's
world, where money is not the criterion but people are the center of
the reign of God.
D'Abreo, Desmond A., A Social Worker Looks At the New
Economic Policy, Madras: Dialogue Group, 1995.
Dietrich, Gabriele, The Impact of New Economic Policy on
Women in India and Feminist
Alternatives. The 4th M.A. Thomas Memorial
Lecture. Whitefield: Ecumenical Christian
Centre, August, 1997.
Integral Liberation-A Quarterly Review for Justice,
Development and Social change, A BSA Trust
Publication, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1997.
The International Financial System - an Ecumenical Critique,
by WCC/CCPD, Geneva: Vol. No. 4, 1984.