2014 Essay – Globalization: Systemic Exploitation of Women

Elizabeth Cox

Kennesaw State University

Globalization as a Gendered Practice

Globalization is a movement fueled by transnational capitalist interests which transcends and, to a great extent, neutralizes local national efforts to secure equal rights for women. Globalization reinforces an unwritten global constitution which perpetuates the power of neo-imperialist profiteering via cheap labor. This macro system of subjugation of women validates the grim thesis that women are the slaves of the human race.

Before the development of capitalism as a political and economic system, feudal societies oppressed women and subordinated them to male dominance through various methods of intimidation and violence. Capitalism has simply reconfigured the apparatus of dominance to fit the goal of maintaining a low wage labor base for employers. An auxiliary goal of this mechanism is to maintain a low paid or unpaid labor force to perform housework (Rubin, 2009).

The World Bank and IMF, while having good intentions at the time of their creation, have become instruments of perpetual indebtedness pressuring individual less developed countries into structural adjustment. Externally imposed political and economic adjustments open the door for First World corporate enterprises to establish and profit from sweatshop operations ‘manned’ for the most part by women (Sparr, 1994).

Private Oversight of Labor Practices

Lack of a global regulatory function to protect workers in LDC factories has given rise to private certification firms. Currently, a proliferation of newly established “transnational private regulation” boards serve to regulate labor practices of corporations in Third World countries. The scope of private regulation includes responsibility for insuring human rights in the workplace, environmental safety, and other accountability (Bartley, 2007).

Private regulatory agencies are operating in place of missing local laws and regulations in LDC locales. Private regulation practices further entrench the neo-imperialist infiltration of less developed nations. The market-based regulatory approach mirrors the growing political power of transnational neo-liberal globalization. (Bartley, 2007).

The World Bank has given approval and support to this type of “soft law”. This action enhances the possibility of ‘institutionalization’ of private regulatory practices. These regulatory agencies which were sparse a little more than a decade ago are now generating reams of written policy material, educational certifications, consultant designations, and other doctrine – to the point of resembling a global government in the process of formation (Bartley, 2007). The evolution of private self-interested regulation on a global scale presents the dire prospect of yet another force which may morph into a body that consciously or unconsciously perpetuates sweatshop exploitation of women.

Private labor regulation has sprung in part from corporate public relations efforts to safeguard their reputations and convince consumers that responsible practices are enforced (Bartley, 2007). In recent years major Western brands have been exposed in the media as willing participants in sweatshop production of consumer goods. Citizen watchdog groups have formed with the goal of increasing public awareness of the under belly of offshore manufacturing practices which are hidden from consumers. Where women are the main constituents of sweat shops and other factories in Free Trade Zones, they are most vulnerable to corruption of labor standards. In the reliance on transnational private regulation to protect workers, it may be a case of ‘the fox protecting the hen house’.

Marxist Theory and Global Exploitation of Women

Karl Marx’s theories explain oppression of women in terms of capitalist systems and processes. Most of the women of the world must work and are subject to labor markets and bureaucracy that is stratified to fit the capitalist profit goals. The capitalist corporate grip on world markets has been growing rapidly since the demise of the soviet socialist bloc in the late twentieth century (Geminez, 2005).

Marx posited that the universal state of inequality between men and women is enmeshed in the link between capitalist ideology and exploitation of the ‘propertyless’ population. Both women and men are caught in the web of the social formation where they are born and develop into adults. Marx’s analytical methodology is useful in understanding the complexity of gender inequality. His analysis focused on the context of oppression, in terms of conditions of production and reproduction that support the gender gap (Geminez, 2005).

The goal of the capitalist system is accumulation of wealth. Societal adherence
to this goal interferes with the innate human drive to satisfy basic (non-gender specific) needs. In a capitalist society, because the welfare of the family depends on economic necessities, poor men and women may be thrown into competition for scarce resources. When economic times are hard, this dynamic is exacerbated resulting in sex-segregated labor pools and an increase in gender-specific economic handicaps for women. The global preponderance of women in poverty conditions has been termed “feminization of poverty” (Geminez, 2005).

Theoretically, global gender inequality may be seen as an inevitable component of capitalist social structure based on ‘ghettoization’ of propertyless people. Women are allocated domestic work, the labor of reproduction and childcare, as well as labor outside the home at sub-standard rates of remuneration (Geminez, 2005). As globalization of the capitalist economy increases, women workers will become more economically insecure and vulnerable to lower and lower wages.

First World Feminist Perspective

Feminists of the First World enjoy confirmation of their successful efforts to advance the cause of gender equality in educational, economic, and legislative terms; but at the same time, they are feeding and supporting the global jaws of usury and marginalization of women. By employing nannies and maids who migrate from less-developed Southern Hemisphere nations, First World feminists contribute to the care deficit in less developed countries. As First World care work is delegated to migrant women, the families these women leave behind in LDCs experience the negative effects of their absence (Ehrenreich & Hochschild, 2003).

The practice of importing care workers is part of the sociological footing of First World women’s liberation structure – an ideological high-rise from which Western feminists view the distant landscape of global feminism. This elite perspective insulates feminists of developed countries from the struggles experienced by their Third World sisters.

It is no accident that feminists of affluent nations are allowed a measured degree of success in their role as equal partners to men in their societies. They have become ‘Uncle Toms’ in terms of women’s global struggle for equality, acting as people who participate in the oppression of their own gender group. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s statement, “that home and mother must not figure as sanctuaries from the world but as imperative models for its reconstitution” holds true in the sense of global feminist issues, just as it did in the face of historic Black slavery. Exploitation of women is also reinforced by institutionalized religion, just as Black slavery was justified through distortion of religious doctrine by those who benefitted from the practice of slavery (New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1986).

 Conclusion: Possible Solutions to the Global Feminist Dilemma

Part of the solution to disorganization within the global feminist movement may lie in the creation of a written constitution – a unifying document ratified by women globally via online signatures which defines and outlines the inalienable universal rights of women. The advent of the Internet and the social media phenomenon make the goal of creating a universal women’s constitution and plan of action logistically attainable. The interlocking economic, political, religious, and psychological systems which function to oppose efforts to establish equality for women must be identified and quantified. Specific methods and measures for sanction and economic boycott against violators should be spelled out.

There are many channels for activism available via technology: Citizen journalism offers a wide spectrum of possible avenues to inform and educate women about marginalization based on gender. An organized network of citizen journalist bloggers assigned to report on the plight of women in specific world regions could function in the way the historic Radio Free Europe worked to disseminate information and news pertinent to the cause of freedom.  International feminist oversight teams should be formed to act as monitors assigned to assess action or lack of action by transnational private regulatory agencies. In this way, the ‘fox’ would be watched by hens with teeth.

An effort to educate First World feminists about the long term negative effects of the Third World care deficit created by importation of caregivers could be a step toward exploring ways to create mutually beneficial lifestyle solutions. When First World women wake up from their false sense of freedom and embrace the cause of universal women’s rights, the economic ghetto walls that entrap women globally will begin to crumble.


Bartley, T. (2007). Institutional Emergence in an Era of Globalization: The Rise of Transnational Private Regulation of Labor and Environmental Conditions. American Journal of Sociology, 113(2), 297–351. doi:10.1086/518871

Ehrenreich, B., & Hochschild, A. R. (2003). Global Woman: Nannies. Maids, and Sex workers in the New Economy – Introduction (pp. 1–13). New York: Metropolitan.

Geminez, M. (2005). Capitalism and the Oppression of Women: Marx Revisited. Science and Society, 11–32.

New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (1986) (Vol. 28, p. 200). Cambridge University Press.

Rubin, G. (2009). The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex. In Feminist Anthropology: A Reader (p. 544). John Wiley & Sons.

Sparr, P. (1994). Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment (p. 214). Palgrave Macmillan.


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