The popular belief that neoliberalism created greater employment opportunities for women is prevalent, thanks to the propaganda machinery of the mainstream media. The truth is that hundreds of millions of women were deprived of the life of dignity in the past three decades. They were the wretched victims of the current neoliberal world order.
The Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011, released by the UN, revealed many facts about the status of women in the era of neoliberalism. In most countries in Asia and the Pacific, women are earning less than men although they spend more hours of labor.
They face discrimination with respect to education and healthcare. And, though their labor contributes considerably for the wealth of nations and corporations, women are under-represented in policy and decision-making bodies.
Top management in most corporations are male-dominated.
Women are overrepresented in poorly paid positions and are less represented in the often better-paid industrial and service sectors across Asia and the Pacific.
About 47% of working-age women were engaged in the agricultural sector in 2008, compared with 38% of men. The proportion of women employed in industry in Asian region has increased only slightly from 17% in 1991 to 18% in 2008.
In Asia, women were mostly employed in the informal sector, which is unreported and burgeoned during the neoliberal era.
The majority of them were low-paid, temporary and part-time workers and unprotected by labor and health regulations and vulnerable to emotional, psychological, physical and sexual violence. The cutting of government subsidies and social welfare provisions, which is the inherent feature of neoliberalism has further worsened the conditions of women.
To supplement the dwindling family income and escape from poverty, millions of housewives and mothers are entering the labor markets. With the domestic obligations of housework and childcare, women are actually doing two full-time jobs. The outcome of this inhuman condition of women is the steady deterioration in their health and increasing stress resulting in strained household relationships.
The women workers are also finding jobs in informal self-employment, such as software and some high-end IT-enabled services that allow home-based professional work. They are getting meager income for long hours of work and they are also subjected to labor exploitation.
According to the International Labor Organization, over 2.4 million people are engaged in forced labor due to human trafficking and approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international and state borders each year.
Also, millions are trafficked within their own country each year. For instance, about eighteen to twenty-two million people are trafficked within India.
Around half of the migrants are women. Since the cheap female labor reduces the costs of production and increase corporate profits, women laborers are always in demand in Asian countries. But they are the worst exploited sections coping with the life of slavery. They are engaged in errands like cleaning the city streets, the homes of the wealthy and the big stores like Wal-Mart and many of them are forced to work in the so-called sexual tourism. In Asia and the Pacific region, this trafficking industry traded more than 30 million children mostly teenage girls- to work in sweatshops in the last three decades.
One of the main causes of human trafficking and migration in Asian countries is the crumbling rural life.
The free trade and structural adjustments policies of the governments have ruined agricultural economies and indigenous industries.
New labor regulations in China, in compliance with International Labor Organization standards, would benefit female employees, assuring them of 98 days of maternity leave, and insurance coverage for claims related to childbirth and miscarriage. All other Asian countries have no such regulations for the women labor.
The struggle for womens liberation is central for the emancipation of working people from the corporate exploitation. Womens empowerment is a crucial step in achieving gender equality and thus is essential for equitable development.
N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.
From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2012
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