What is the impact of globalisation on women’s economic participation and how does that reflect on lived reality of women’s workforce in sweat shops in Bangladesh?

What is the impact of globalisation on women’s economic participation and how does that reflect on lived reality of women’s workforce in sweat shops in Bangladesh?

Feminism and impact of globalisation on working women in Bangladesh


Research Question


This study uses a feminist lens to investigate the impacts of economic globalisation on women’s work and rights using the lived experiences of women working in sweat-shops in Bangladesh. The central research question that this dissertation intends to address is:



 “What is the impact of globalisation on women’s economic participation and how does that reflect on lived reality of women’s workforce in sweat shops in Bangladesh?”





For the past 20 years, globalisation has significantly impacted women’s lives in the developing world. In the field of international relations (IR) however, women’s lived experiences remained a distant subject among the dominance of two metatheories on IR, namely, realism and liberalism. However, with the theoretical traction gained by the feminist movement in the recent years, gender-sensitive approaches to international relations have become increasingly accepted (Gray, Kittilson and Sandholtz 3). Feminist theory is sought to bring new perspectives to the continuing struggles of women in the context of neoliberal globalisation (Redden 433). This paper uses feminist theory in international relations in its investigation into the impacts of globalisation on working women in the developing countries, more specifically Bangladesh.


Globalisation refers to complex economic process where all national economies are integrated in a transnational or global form. Feminist critiques on globalisation consider that liberal global economic institutions privilege western norms while marginalising and ignoring the experiences of the people, especially women in the Global South (Mohanty 31; Narayana 2). Neoliberal globalisation is viewed by many feminists as a process which prioritises profit making over the promotion of rights and freedoms. Moreover, the universal aims of globalisation render women invisible and their experiences ignored (Ruiz 21). Hence, the ever-lasting question of “where are the women?” considers to be true until today (Enloe 54). Therefore, this identifies the need for more feminist research on globalisation issues.


A seminal work on the role of globalisation on women’s freedom and agency was put forth by economist Amartya Sen who argued for greater economic participation among women as a more of promoting greater freedom. According to Sen, the more women are free to work outside of the home, the more they can be visible, have the capacity to organise and mobilise in order to pursue their civil, social, and political rights (2). It has been established in many studies that women’s long-standing exclusion and marginalisation from the workforce or the treatment as secondary workers continues to limit their freedom (Beneria 43; Cho 5). In Sen’s view, developmental freedom for women requires that they go out and work (13).


My argument in this dissertation strays from some of the propositions of Sen. While women’s labor participation should be enhanced and freedoms for women can be positively influenced when women are free to work outside the home, I will argue that increasing numbers of women in paid employment do not necessarily contribute to enhancement of women’s rights and freedoms. More specifically, my argument is grounded on women’s documented experiences in the context of globalisation. In order to provide empirical basis for my argument, a literature review using recent scholarly sources and academic work will be used for support. My main supposition is that when it comes to globalisation, the advancement of women’s rights cannot be completely done without looking at the other side of the coin. Hence, in this dissertation, both the liberating and non-liberating aspects of women’s increasing workforce participation will be discussed. Moreover, using feminist theory, I will ground the discussion of the impact of paid work by factoring in accounts of power and patriarchy in women’s lives in the national and international level.


Literature Review


The use of feminist theory in this study responds to the limitations of realism and liberalism in emphasising power in the discussions on IR. The question of who defines power, who wields it, and how it is used is a central tenet in feminist critique of international relations. IR discussions ignore that power is defined by a patriarchal society (Beneria 32; Ruiz 21). With respect to realism, feminism considers it opposing to the achievement of gender equality. Realist emphasis on national security and war occupy central themes in international relations. State actors take on the main role while individuals are de-emphasised and rendered insignificant. There is even less acknowledgment of women in realist IR. With respect to liberalism which focuses on the supremacy of the individual and the emphasis on “universal consensus”, feminist critiques indicate how free trade disproportionately impacts women. Liberal focus on male-centric economic indicators such as gross national product will tend to undervalue women’s work and contributions to the economy (Devasahayam, Huang and Yeoh 136). Given these limitations of the two dominant ideologies in IR, feminism will provide theoretical framework for this study.


The focus of this study is the experience of women workers in the Global South who have since increased their labor force participation as Western companies outsource non-core operations to developing nations. Even among feminist scholars, there are two strands of thought with respect to the role of globalisation in women’s lives. Women garment workers for instance are viewed by Third World feminists as victims of exploitation (Mohanty 34). While these women work for the most profitable companies in the world, they are subject to poverty, poor working conditions and unfair labor practices. Abuses are common for instance in the garment industry in Bangladesh. While the industry is now overrepresented by women, neglect of health and safety, abuse, and even trafficking hound this supposed development (Karim 70). On the other hand, the liberal feminist would consider this form of exploitation as empowering for women. Women’s exclusion from the paid workforce has rendered her invisible throughout history (Mies 5). Their increasing integration in the paid global workforce, despite the presence of some abuses, should still be considered empowering (Chang 21). For instance, other female economists asserted that Bangladeshi women garment workers have gained recognition and rights as a result of their greater participation in the economy (Kabeer, Mahmud and Tasneem 32). Hence, by providing a balanced account and discussion of the several viewpoints on the impact of paid work among women workers in the context of globalisation, this dissertation intends to contribute to a richer understanding of trade connectivity as an important character of international relations. While acknowledging the legitimacy of the approaches, core intention is to research beyond and highlight limitations by examining the lived reality of women’s workforce in sweat shops in Bangladesh.


Research Methodology


Proposed is a qualitative study, particularly a documentary review of recent scholarly articles and research on the impact of women’s work in the developing countries on women’s rights and status in the context of economic globalisation. The information in this dissertation will be based on secondary data taken from academic journals, books, and other national and international reports. The dissertation will focus on data following time period from 2010 – 2016. Theoretical data was gathered from time period prior 2010 to offer ground knowledge however for analysis of conditions of women in Bangladesh will consist of research data from given time frame above.  As stated, this dissertation will be based on secondary data analysis so therefore ethics consent form will not be required. Moreover, electronic databases such Aston SmartSearch, ProQuest, Google Scholar and EBSCO will be searched using following key words: Globalisation, Garment Industry, Sweat-shops, Human rights, Feminism and global south to retrieve relevant results.



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