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Globalisation: Asian Women’s Experience

by Chang Hee Won

Hee Won hails from Korea SCM and is a keen activist on the issues of Peace and Justice. She has just completed her Masters’ degree in International Politics and Security Studies in the Bradford University in UK

Globalisation: opening up

Globalisation, an ideology has become an unstoppable process that is shaping our society, economy, culture, politics and also our way of thinking. Globalisation has opened up boundaries between nations, enabled free flow of people, information, investment and trade and created networks among people, business, countries, social movements and civil society.

Many people benefit from globalisation, the world has become smaller through high technology for instance, mobile phones, e-mails, Internet, and similar cultures through traveling, Hollywood movies, fast-food chains, clothing brands and so on. In economy it has created new jobs and investments throughout the globe. The social movements itself; anti-globalisation movement and anti-war movement have become a global trend as well. These two very big movements would not have become a ‘global’ movement if it wasn’t for ‘globalisation’. Globalisation has enabled people to come together and create an arena for people to oppose and criticize in solidarity the unjust structural violence that is affecting them and others as well.

However, there is the abnormal side of globalisation: it has become deformed, something beyond control and threatening, this is what we call ‘neo-liberal globalisation’. Neo-liberal globalisation is led by neo-liberal market policies and by the Bretton Woods Institution; International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). They are also famously known for implementing Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), nearly every country in Asia, Africa and Latin America has gone through this programme or are undergoing. Also, World Trade Organization (WTO) advocates ‘free trade’ and it is easily heard in the news that some countries are signing over ‘free trade agreements’. But there are set of rules and regulations to follow if you want to compete in the world economy. The ideas behind this neo-liberal thinking is that for an economy to flourish, the market has to be allowed to move freely, the role of the government is limited and a ‘hidden hand’ will take care of itself; market can correct itself on its own. The word ‘free’ and ‘liberal’ sounds very attractive, why not? It’s something that the entire humankind has been fighting for since the history itself! However, ‘freeing and liberating’ on the other side of the end is ‘restraining and occupation’. So we need to critically look at who advocates for neo-liberal policies, who makes up the rules and regulations and who controls? Then we will get an answer and are able to see clearly how neo-liberal globalisation works.

Undoubtedly, globalisation is a dominant social paradigm that has its say in everything and everyway hence it came to be perceived as something that is beyond human control. The problem with globalisation is that only the 20% is benefiting from this process the other 80% is simply caught up and have no say. So, leaving aside different opinions on globalisation, if you are able to read this article, have been abroad, attended international meetings or demonstrations, have an e-mail account or mobile phone, know how to use the internet and many other aspects, then you belong to the 20% including myself. We all go through a rather different experience in the process of globalisation. Here we will look at the experience of Asian women in the force of globalisation. The experience of Asian women cannot be generalised, for every woman is affected differently based on their region, country, gender, class, religion, ethnicity, age, ideology and sexual preference.[1] However we will try to catch at least a glimpse of changing lives of Asian women in globalisation. When we look at the lives of Asian women in globalisation we need to look beyond the surface of ‘what is happening’ hence we should put in mind the rooted problems of patriarchy, violence against women (militarism) and discrimination of women and how all of this is interlinked with Asian women’s lives and how globalisation has effected; liberated or reinforced.

Asian women’s Experience

There are around 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty and women take up 70%. Asia is said to be the highest in numbers so it can be said that the most marginalised are women of Asia. Asian women do not suffer from poverty alone they have to struggle through the already existing discrimination and other forms of hardship that globalisation has brought. Globalisation advocates that poverty will be reduced through the economic growth. Therefore, some say that Asian woman’s lives have benefited from the globalisation process, that it has helped women in need and also eliminated discrimination against women. According to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP)[2];

To some extent globalisation has helped Asian women as stated above but it is only a minority that really benefits. They say that the rapid economic growth in North-East Asia has helped in eliminating poverty and helped women in equal rights and furthered a step into the global era. However as we look at women in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, countries where it is recognised as having stable economy’; most women work on irregular conditions, such as part-time, contract workers and dispatch workers. In South Korea, the situation deteriorated after the 1997 financial crisis where 70% of women worked as irregular workers. Also women were the first to be fired. In most of South East Asia, women work in dire conditions employed by multinational companies. It is not difficult to find sweatshops in this region where women are under-paid and violated. Women’s labour force is purchased in a cheap price and justified on the grounds that women were provided with work. Hence, globalisation is not creating jobs for women, it is exploiting women’s struggle for survival.

Globalisation has enabled ‘free flow of people’ and it gives us an image of people in their suits with laptop computers and business suitcase busily going around the world through air flights and fast transportation. However what is it in reality for Asian women? The term ‘free flow of people’ in other words is migration and trafficking of women. Nearly 1 billion people are crossing boarders in order to find a job for a better living, and of these 1 billion, 13 million are from Asia, and 72% are told to be women.[3] Most of it is for domestic labour or farm labour. They have to put up with long hours of work, low pay and abuse. They have to put up with racism and sexual violence. The biggest problem is nevertheless the sexual exploitation of Asian women through trafficking. Globalisation has accelerated sex industry and sex trafficking of women. Trafficking comes in several forms, through mail order-brides, entertainers, kidnapping, job ads and etc. All share the same logic of simply selecting and buying young girls and women for sexual pleasure. This is co-linked with patriarchy-militarism and poverty. These Asian women become vulnerable and targets for sexual violence, their rights totally violated.

The SAPs implemented in Asian countries are making it harder for women to survive. Through SAPs the role of the government lessens, privatisation takes place and social welfare budgets reduced. The people have nowhere to turn to. Also because of the heavy debts the countries pay there is no money left for reinvestment for its people. Hence the vicious circle of poverty goes around. It is no wonder that SAPs are regarded as death sentence. Therefore many Asian women are driven to sustain themselves and the family through going abroad as domestic workers or trafficked into sexual industry. Globalisation has also deepened inequality among Asian women. Asian women are divided by class by the standards inside their country and also by the status of the country. 

Closing

The experience of Asian women going through globalisation is truly diverse, some benefit, some struggle to live. Hence the problem rises on how we can take a step forward in unity. How can we go beyond the differences we all have and come together? Asian women everyday are struggling and surviving the many hardships that they are facing. The important point is that we need to be critically aware of the conditions that construct many Asian women’s lives. It has to start from myself and my surroundings. We need to be an open eye and bear in mind that my benefit can be someone’s exploitation. As we have seen the current globalisation, is structural violence for many Asian women. It does not liberate the lives of Asian women, it oppresses and abuses. Patriarchy-violence against women (militarism) is being strengthened and reinforced by globalisation. We say that globalisation is beyond the hands of human, but if it was not us, then who created such a thing. Globalisation can be transformed and controlled by us through humanising it. It should be a process that everybody benefits. To do so we need to listen to the voices of the Asian women, we need to engender it and add the perspective of the most oppressed women.

Notes:
  1. Cecilia Ng, ‘Globalization and Women’, FOCUS ON WOMEN, Nov 22,2000 www.ased.org/artman/publish/printer_285.shtml
  2. Taken from UNESCAP, for more information on globalization and Asian women look at www.unescap.org/esid/GAD/Issues?Globalization/index.asp
  3. From ‘Women & The Economy - Globalization & Migration’ http://unpac.ca/economy/g_migration.html