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Defending Womens’ Rights in the Workplace in Developing Countries

Created by Vanessa Gautier, Peuples Solidaires

01 / 2008

This folder of 16 documents shows the effects of globalization on working women in developing countries. It proposes analyses in terms of gender, demonstrating the relevance of action. The folder consists of studies, documented experiences of individual organizations, and accounts of struggles for the defense of female workers. From these examples, we can see that citizen campaigns, which play an integral role in actions of international solidarity, are indispensable to gain recognition for and to guaranty women’s rights.

Defending All the Rights of Women

The defense of economic, social, and cultural rights draws international recognition to the numerous fundamental rights at the heart of international social movements. These are the primary rights that are affected by the perverse effects of globalization and free trade. Women’s rights have a fundamental place within human rights. Because women are often the primary actors in local systems of solidarity, they are essential to support economic and social change.

However, the hierarchical and inegalitarian system between the sexes that prevails in most societies allows women only a limited access to resources such as education, credit, etc. The system thus keeps them in a position of economic, political, and social vulnerability. Worldwide, women work two thirds of labor hours, produce half of the food supply, gain only 10% of the total world revenue and own only 2% of land. Women constitute 70% of the 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day.

An Analysis of Globalization in Terms of Gender

Gender offers a powerful analytic tool to better understand the complexity of social relationships at the heart of human development and the process of globalization (document: La notion de genre, un outil conceptuel indispensable - Defining Gender, an Indispensable Conceptual Tool).

Gender underlines the constructed social inequalities between men and women as well as determining the distribution of roles within society. The workplace is not exempt. When globalization modifies the kinds of jobs available, it impacts differently upon men and women, weighing more heavily on women (document: Genre, travail et mondialisation - Gender, Labor, and Globalization).

Heightened Job Insecurity

Globalization may create employment opportunities for women, making them more economically independent, but their labor conditions deteriorate. Due to more and more aggressive buying practices, lean production management systems, and lower and lower prices, the employment opportunities accessible to women are more and more precarious. The emerging role of major brand-name chains with large distribution power encourages this phenomenon (document: L’impact des supermarchés britanniques sur le travail des femmes dans les pays du Sud, Une recherche d’ActionAid - The Impact of British Supermarket Chains on Women’s Labor in Developing Countries, a Study by ActionAid).

The growing importance of Free Trade Zones within the economies of many developing countries is often accompanied by deterioration in the protection of employed workers, who usually have no other choice than to accept miserable salaries, excessive work hours and abusive working conditions. Often employers in FTZs are exempt from following labor laws.

The women who constitute a majority of the workforce in Free Trade Zones, are furthermore victims of additional discrimination in hiring terms, salaries, and benefits simply because of their gender. They are frequently subject to sexual harassment and are sometimes required to take pregnancy tests when hired, particularly in the “maquiladoras” (factories in the FTZs of Central America). China’s rise in power, especially in the textile sector since the end of quotas, reinforces this “race to the bottom” by the factories of subcontractors.


Thus, all over the world we often confront the same issues:

Flexibility and Informality

Women workers have to be available in response to demand and as a result have an income that is not only weak but also variable and unpredictable. This sometimes leads women to take on additional jobs, often within the informal economy. This phenomenon is of great importance in FTZ’s and is connected to subcontracting in general but it can also be seen in the agricultural sector. The question of access to land is fundamental for the self-respect of working women (document: Défendre les droits fonciers des femmes et reconnaître leur rôle dans le travail agricole - Defending the Land Rights of Women and Recognizing Their Role Within Agricultural Work).

Supporting the Struggle through Citizens Campaigns

Thankfully there are numerous examples of mobilized citizens and social struggles. In Europe, the Clean Clothes Campaign, partnered in France with the Collectif Ethique sur l’Etiquette (document: Le Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette, relais en France de la Clean Clothes Campaign - The Ethical Label Collective, French Partner of the Clean Clothes Campaign), works to defend the rights of female workers in the garment industry where women make up the majority of the workforce. This European network has adopted an approach based on gender and has published a book “Made by women,” available in both French and English. (Document: “Fabriqué par des Femmes,” un livre sur les travailleuses de l’habillement - “Made by Women,” a book on women workers in the Garment Industry)

Certain struggles have forged links between developing and developed countries, bringing together different organizations with varying perspectives, and have reached gratifying outcomes for the Rights of Women in the workplace. One example: (document: Les “Gaciliennes” au Burkina Faso - The “Gaciliennes” in Burkina Faso).

Other struggles require long-term work due to the challenges of demonstrating the liability of the companies involved. Luckily there are groups working relentlessly and sometimes in conjunction with organizations in developed countries, such as the Workers’ Assistance Center in the Philippines (document: Mouvement social d’appui aux Philippines, le WAC dénonce les violences faites aux travailleurs et travailleuses - Solidarity Campaign in the Philippines, the WAC Denounces Violence Against Male and Female Workers), Globalization Monitor (document: Globalization Monitor: dénoncer les dérives de l’ultralibéralisme à Hong-Kong et ses conséquences sur les conditions de travail - Globalization Monitor: Denouncing the By-Products of Ultraliberalism in Hong-Kong and their Effects of Working Conditions) as well as the document: SACOM en Chine - SACOM in China. SACOM is an organization of Chinese students who denounce Disney’s subcontractor factories in Schenzen, ably merging a defense of both women’s rights and worker’s rights.

However these campaigns need to be strengthened and supported. New collaborations and networks between different social movements need to be developed without losing sight of the legal tools that exist at the international level (document: Droits des femmes au travail à l’international : les fondamentaux, indispensables pour mieux défendre les droits des femmes au travail et pour dénoncer les violations - Internationally recognized rights of women in the workplace: Fundamentals that are Indispensable for better defending Women’s Rights in the Workplace and for Denoucing Violations).

The Réseau-Solidarité de Peuples Solidaires was created in France in 1981 to defend human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights. The members of the Réseau-Solidarité support men and women who are fighting for the recognition of their rights, by relaying information and by putting pressure on concerned parties through letter-writing campaigns. The Réseau-Solidarité has 10,000 members and has launched almost 300 appeals. 7 out of every 10 campaigns have helped the situations evolve, sometimes ending a prolonged deadlock.

Vanessa Gauthier, Peuples Solidaires, January 2008

English translation: Selena McMahan

16 fiches

1-10 / 11-16

Peuples Solidaires - 2B rue Jules-Ferry, 93100 Montreuil, FRANCE - Tél. : 01 48 58 21 85 et 10 quai de Richemont, 35000 Rennes, FRANCE - France - - info (@)

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