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Mainstream, VOL LII No 11, March 8, 2014

Dismantling Meta-Narratives: Women, Development and Globalisation

Tuesday 11 March 2014

by manisha mishra

“A girl whose spirits have not been dampened by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp...”

Mary Wollstonecraft
   (A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792, p. 87

The modern social scenario is rapidly emerging as a developing sector in a multi-dimensional and dynamic process of spiral growth. The old political power blocks controlling socio-economic system are a matter of bygone days. The study of the various facets of social inclusion policies have emerged as a new field of research interest. Social inclusion focuses on gender justice. These changes in the global socio-political area have opened new hope for the neglected section of the society, namely, women, who have been exploited hitherto.

On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first Inter-national Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. In 1913 following discussions, International Women’s Day was transferred to March 8 and this day has remained the global date for the International Women’s Day ever since. Annually on March 8, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Spread of education, new career opportunities, techno-logical development have brought new hopes for this section. What they need is assistance from state and local agencies for sustainable growth retaining their cultural and ‘local skill and identity’.

Methods: This paper is primarily based upon secondary sources such as books, research papers in journals, published articles in magazines and other information through online resources. The method of proceeding will be historical, exploratory and analytical.

Research Design: The present paper is divided into six parts. The introductory portion is a brief prolegomenon to the concept of globalisation and development. Secondly, the inter-connectedness between development and the concept of globalisation is discussed with gender perspectives. The third part portrays the essentiality of deconstructing biased meta-narratives fuelled by the process of globalisation. Fourthly, how inclusion of women in this process is taking place is dwelt at length. The fifth part highlights the negative impacts on women in the globalised scenario. The concluding remarks entail some of the suggestions for social inclusion of women for their development in the true sense.

There is hardly any unanimity in the theoretical formulations on globalisation. While on the one hand, the excessive use of the term as a sociological concept has largely emptied it of any analytical and explanatory value, most observations are based on a dominant economic framework on the other. The current global economic crisis is characterised by growing poverty worldwide, great and growing inequality of income, rising unemployment, debt and negative growth in many countries, and worsening urban and rural pollution and environmental degradation. Linked to these factors are increasing food prices, declining standards of health and education due to reduced spending on services, and social and cultural dislocation.1 In its broad sense, the aim of globalisation is to integrate the society and economies of the world in such a manner which could facilitate growth and development on the one hand and eliminate poverty and disparity on the other by encouraging social justice. But to what extent these goals are being achieved is a matter of dispute.

At the same time development is primarily a positive progress. It is not merely a concept but an instrument. It is not simply economic growth following Westernisation; rather it includes political mobilisation, awareness of rights and duties among common men, people’s participation, adequate access to the resources and other facets. The concept of development can be used for levelling of the productive resources of society to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged group. The growing recognition of the links between the global economy and gender forces us to engage with international relations in foreign policy and analyse the impact of globalisation on women. During the 1950s and 1960s, the development theory and practice was based on the idea that with Western aid accompanied by a Western description about was meant to be modern, the newly-independent states in the South could “take-off” into self-sustained economic growth. This earlier embodiment of the globalisation of Western liberalism, which, in its erudite form, was by and large positioned in the field of comparative politics and outside the IPE literature, paid little attention to women in the development process and, for the most part, ignored the contributions that women were making to development. The international decade for women (1976-85) generated a huge amount of material on women’s lives and the discriminations they faced. It also documented the gendered effects of development, and provided a base for the themes of peace, justice and development.

In the process, it gave rise to a new field: “women in development”. There are very different approaches to WID including between liberal feminists, who seek to integrate women more equally into development, and other feminists who see development currently defined as damaging to women. They seek the empowerment of women, including through their participation in the development decisions that affect their own lives and choices.

Since the 1990s, the gender index has become a crucial factor of assessment, be it for the World Bank or the Human Development Report. The much celebrated ‘success’ of women’s micro credit programmes has meant that gender needs and planning have become imperative for all projects in the NGO sector. A theory of gender in times of globalisation has to contend with the old questions of the ‘invisibility’ of gender and the new questions of contesting ‘hyper visibility’ or of market and inverted feminisms as also the questions of conceptualising ‘differences among women’. Feminist analyses of globalisation that seek to contest the assumed universality of gender oppression must account for relations of power not only between, men and women, North and South but also between women. The National Federation of Dalit Women (NFDW) [NGO Declaration on Gender and Racism 2001] underlines the intersections with community, race and poverty as vital to understanding the implications of globalisation for women general and Dalit women in particular.

While discussing the second and third waves of feminist activism, writers have shown interest in inequality, poverty and gender relations. This has produced a significant strand of critical thoughts on the impact of globali-sation. Issues raised by feminists significantly have their impact upon international agencies dealing with the development problems. The new feminist development theory forms a recogni-sable system of concepts, discourses and practices and has set an alternative model in this globalised realm.

 Capability and Development in the Globalised Scenario: Gender Perspective

According to Devaki Jain, “Economic develop-ment, that magic formula, devised sincerely to move poor nations out of poverty, has become women’s worst enemy.”3The mechanisation of agriculture in the Third World has also reduced women’s control over agricultural production as men have taken over the mechanised part of the production process. One can put forward the arguments made by Sen and Grown here: “The experiences lived by poor women throughout the Third World in their struggles to ensure the basic survival of their families and themselves...provide the clearest lens for an understanding of the development process. And it is their aspirations and struggles for a future free of the multiple oppressions of gender, race and nation that can form the basis for the new visions and strategies that the world now needs.” So, following blindly the Liberalisation-Privati-sation-Globalisation (LPG) syndrome can’t be the actual definition of development for every sector of society especially when it comes to women.

Similarly, in her research paper “Capabilities and Social Justice”, published in International Studies Review, Martha Nussbaum focused on the fact that women in the global context generally lack support for the fundamental functions of a human life. Unequal social and political circumstances give women unequal human capabilities. One can put forward the arguments given by the thinkers of capability approach here. The central question asked by the capability approach in this context is not: “How much in the way of resources is she able to command?” It is instead: “What is she actually able to do and to be?” The basic intuition from which the capability approach begins in the political arena is that human abilities exert a moral claim that they should be developed. Social inclusion of peripheral classes can’t be possible without inculcating their capabilities.

 Similar arguments can be found in the theoretical perception of the concept of feminism. As Simone de Beauvoir says, “She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute — she is the Other.” (Second Sex, p. 16)

Feminist Criticism of Development 

Theory and Misperception of Modernity

Feminist incursions into the heart of modern epistemology led to a critical re-examination of the development theory as a masculinist enterprise. In the modernisation theory, Catherine Scott argued, modernity and a rational, forward-looking, male-dominated public sphere were contrasted with a “feminised”, backward traditional society, while the achievement of modernity was such as a power struggle with the feminine on the way to “maturity”. Modernisation involved the subordination of tradition, nature and the feminine.

Similarly, the dependency theory shared with Marxism a definition of development as the mastery and transformation of nature, centring conceptualisations of social struggle around productive activity, excluding struggles between men and women and retaining notions of nature as feminine. Thus, Scott preferred the feminist standpoint theory as a sustainable perspective. This allowed sensitivity to the way systematic power structures live and that had possibilities for rewriting the meaning of development in terms of people continuing their efforts to realise their aspirations in the globalised scenario. Many NGOs, such as Third World Network, Consumers International, and the Asia Indigenous Women’s Network, have also adopted a more critical view of development and advocate alter-native development strategies. Such strategies include micro-lending, which was first pioneered by the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh.

In fact, how to define development is much contested, in part because the concept carries with it the evolutionary assumptions of its 19th-century European pedigree, whose notions of progress and advancement conveyed odious distinctions between the more and less developed. The post-war ‘development discourse’ defined it in terms of economic growth and structural shifts, measured in terms of gross national product (GNP) and other indices of formal economic activity which ignore women’s unpaid work.6

  Globalisation and its Positive: Consequences on Women

Looking at the brighter side, nowadays some progressive signs can be found in such an idea as “Gendered Division of Labour (GDL). The notion of women’s work, which everywhere includes women’s primary responsibility for childcare and housework, and which designates many public and paid forms of work as ‘women’s or men’s too. The

Global care economy

is recognising the growing global demand for women’s domestic and sexual services, which often seems poorer and minor. Hence, a new vision of gendering development is becoming very dominant. It means applying a ‘gender- sensitive lens’ to development to reveal that women are differently positioned in relation to the developmental processes that differently impact upon them.

Women can become crucial players for boosting the development process in response to these gendered effects. The Gender Empower-ment Index (GEI) measures relative empower-ment between men and women in political and economic spheres and in terms of political representation. If one throws light upon women at work, positive symptoms can be found substantially. In countries such as Australia, Canada, Thailand and the United State over 30 per rcent of all business are now owned or operated by women, with Thailand topping the list at almost 40 per cent.

  Globalisation and its Negative: Consequences on Women 

The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) was among the first to question the applicability of liberal economic thinking to developing states. It argued in the 1950s that if the developing countries adopt liberal economic strategies, they would forever become linked to dependency. The cost of globalisation is not evenly spread. The well-known term ‘feminisation of poverty’ represents it very well. It refers to the growing proportion, as well as number of women and their children living in poverty. This is in part a reflection of the worldwide trend, so that now three-and-a-half of all families do not have a male breadwinner. The gap between programmes and their actual implementation is very prominent especially in cases of the women population.

• About one lakh women die in India during pregnancy due to lack of medical facilities and physical violence while in every Five Year Plan one can find so many development oriented programmes and financial allocations aiming at happy and comfortable motherhood.

• The deplorable condition of women in unorganised sector can be seen in every country. Although women constitute 30 per cent of world’s population and two-thirds of the world’s work force, but they get only one-tenth of the world’s income and own only one-hundredth of the world’s wealth. This pathetic situation can be changed if women themselves become entrepreneurs and start their own enterprises. In agricultural and rural sectors, which constitute a major economic factor in Asian countries, women’s labour and skill are always equal and more as compared to their male counterparts. But the economic gain and recognition of the services of women can hardly be found.

The condition of women in the global scenario contrary to the existing developmental norms can be seen everywhere. According to the International Labour Organisation’s statistics,

1) 70 per cent of the world’s 1.3 billion poor—those who are living on the equivalent of less than US $ 1 per day are women.

2) Women spend twice as much time as men or more time on unpaid work.

3) Women make up the majority of the world’s part-time workers between 60 per cent and 90 per cent. In the European Union, 83 per cent of part-time workers are women.

Focusing on gender discrimination and positional illusions, Amartya Sen, in his classic work “The Idea of Justice” observes, Women have on the whole tended to have survival disadvantages compared to men in India. Despite the relative disadvantage in mortality rates, the self-perceived morbidity rates of women in India are often no higher—sometimes much lower—than those of men. This seems to relate to women’s deprivation in education and also to the social tendency to see gender disparity as a ‘normal’ phenomenon. Women’s unhappiness about their health has systematically increased across the country, which indicates a declining hold of confirmed positional perception of good and bad health. It is interesting to see that as the subject of women’s deprivation has become politicised, the biased in the perception of the deprivation of women has become less common. The working of families involves some conflict as well as some congruence of interest in the division of benefits, but the demands of harmonious family living require that the conflicting aspects be resolves implicitly, rather than through explicit bargaining. The consciousness-raising has to encompass not only the nature of structures creating poverty for some and wealth for others, the mal-distribution of social wealth and capital, the unbalanced distribution of political power, but also the structures of inequality between men and women which weaken both in their common struggle for survival and for betterment.8

Domino Effect

Economists normally define employment as the work performed outside for a period of at least 180 days in the year and which brings cash income. Hence the work performed at home, even if for the entire year, which does not have regular hours or does not directly and immediately bring in income, is not called by them as employment: much of the work done by women, even if economically productive, does not qualify as employment, as it is not formal and does not have a definite employer, work hours or wages.9

In this reference it will be relevant to understand the contemporary neoliberal current. Neoliberalism is referenced as the set of dominant ideas and practices that supports global capitalism. As a pro-corporate, market-centered rationality, neoliberalism is an economic orthodoxy that strives to instrumentalise the interests of capital accumulation at all costs—indeed, often no matter what the human and planetary cost.10Various studies have proved how globalisation has empowered women in IT and other sectors and to what extent their pathetic condition has evolved by the decreasing number of workers in industries and emphasis on mechanisation.

Critics of economic globalisation have drawn attention to the disproportionate numbers of women at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. Women earn three-quarters of men’s earnings, even though they work longer hours. Of the 1.3 billion people estimated to be in poverty in the mid 1990s, 70 per cent were women. Women are being pitted against increasingly desperate groups of male workers who have the advantage of greater mobility. Women face a perpetual double-bind. Concerns which arise “naturally” from their position in the private sphere, including the health, education, and welfare of children, are deemed private expressions of personal values, but any “hard-nosed”, realistic talk about power from women means they have forfeited the right to represent to the public sphere the private world they have presumably abandoned.11 A study sometime back reveals that:

1. Around 80 per cent of the 27 million refugees around the planet are women and children.

2. Two-thirds of the 300 million children who have no access to education are girls.

3. Out of almost a billion people who are unable to read and write, two-thirds of them are women.

4. Over 200,000 women die every year as a result of back street abortions.


Feminisation of labour, the disproportionate burden of structural adjustment on women are taking place. The consequent growth of women’s social movements protesting the detrimental effects of global capitalism is going on. Critics have focused on mounting inequalities that, they believe, are exacerbated by the spread of liberal market forces. The conditions imposed on states in return for loans include structural adjustment policies (SAP), deregulating finance, liberalising trade, and reducing social services and public support, including food subsidies. These policies are not restricted to poorer Third World states. They are evident in former and some existing communist states, where marketisation has similar effects, including removing state provision of many services that support working women. We live in times of high unemployment, polarising wealth within and between states, reducing state provision and growing impoverishment. These are gendered in their effects:

1) Setbacks in state-services like health, education and social security especially affect women’s employment opportunities in this globalized realm.

2) Women are everywhere crushingly responsible for family and household maintenance, and must compensate through their own time and labour when (often inadequate) state support is reduced or removed.

At global level one can find various initiatives for gender justice:

1) The Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1946.

2) The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights came into existence in 1966.

3) Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women was signed in 1979.

4) The Vienna Declaration of Human Rights in 1993 also gave emphasis on women’s rights.

5) Recently the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women was established in 2011.

However, in spite of all these efforts, in the practical front and ground reality one can find that the patriarchal mindset of society has created hindrance in the path of women developing their own capabilities. Concerning social exclusion, we can’t change the existing situation totally; what we can is only providing a supportive atmosphere conducive to the development of deprived sections, for bringing them into the mainstream. If the gender-sensitive lens can be developed by the state apparatus, then only inclusion of women will take place at the ground level.

Concluding Remarks 

In recent years, women’s expertise and leader-ship in business and industries have been substantial. In fact, women are born managers. This trend shows the latest capability in women’s intelligence. It is an encouraging phenomenon in building a ‘gender-sensitive lens’ and an indicator of development in its true sense. In this context, one of the renowned feminist IR scholars, J. Ann Tickner’s emphasis upon the concept of such kind of security, that would be people-centred, is very much relevant in the contemporary developmental framework. It has to redefine keeping in mind women’s needs and aspirations. So, one can realise in this way ‘gendering global politics’ goes beyond surmounting inequalities between men and women. In place of the neoliberal, market-driven economic growth which is an outcome of the globalisation current, one can argue for an alternative model. A democratic form of development remains a viable possibility.

As victims of the violence of patriarchal development, women resisted “development” to protect nature and preserve their sustenance. Indian women have been in the forefront of ecological struggles to conserve forests, land and water. They have challenged the Western concept of nature as an object of exploitation and have protected her as “Prarkiti”, the living force that supports life. A science, that does not respect nature’s needs, and a development, that does not respect people’s needs, inevitably threaten survival.

Feminist writing about contemporary economic globalisation claims that only when these economic hegemonic processes are revealed and understood, through the forms of knowledge that come not from those at the centre of the system, but from the lives and experiences of those on the margins of the global economy, only then can progress be made toward substantially reducing these gendered and racialised boundaries of inequality.12 The foundation of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) is a progressive step in this context. So, alternative feminist conceptions about developmental thought are difficult but not impossible. It is time to raise again the fundamental issues of real socialist feminist alternatives.

Every educated girl should take an oath that she will educate at least one deprived and poor woman in her life-span. She may be her neighbour or maid servant. Only then can the gender-sensitive lens be developed from the bottom. Empowerment of women is impossible without educational empowerment in this globalised world. This alone can pave the way for awareness, knowledge of projects, plans, policies and programmes made for them and their development in the true sense.

Select Bibliography

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1.Kaldor, M. (1986), “The global political economy”, Alternatives, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 431-460.

2. See Tickner, J. Ann (2001), Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in a post modern era, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 89-90.

3. Tickner, J. Ann (1992), Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 45.

4.See Bryson, Valerie (1992), Feminist Political Theory, McMillan Press, London, p. 152.

5.Pease, Kelly-Kate. S. (2000), International Organisations: Perspectives on Governance in the Twentyfirst Century, Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, pp. 162-163.

6.See Andermahr, Sonya et al. (1997), A Glossary of Feminist Theory, Arnold, London, pp. 58-59.

7.Karns, M.P. and Mingst, K.A. (2004), International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance, Boulder, London, pp. 361-362.

8.Visvanathan, N. et al. (ed.), 1997, The Women, Gender and Development Reader, Zubaan, New Delhi, pp. 54-57.

9. See Kaushik, Susheela (2005), Women’s Studies Pers-pectives: Manual VI, University Grants Commission, New Delhi, pp. 23-24.

10. Kennedy, E.A. and Beins, A. (ed.), 2005, Women’s Studies for the Future: Foundations, Interrogations, Politics, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, pp. 246-249.

11. Goodin, R. E. and Pettit, P. (ed.), 1997, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Malden, pp. 613-614.

12.Tickner, J. Ann (2001), Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in a post modern era, ibid., p. 94.

The author is a Junior Research Fellow, Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. She can be contacted at e-mail

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