FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS, FAST developing global economic trends and policies have negatively impacted women workers all over the world, especially in the fast-developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.
Globalizing trends have exacerbated inequalities between women and men, reflected in the existence of what Harvard academic Gita Sen has described as a gendered labor market. This market is related to the gender-based division of labor, in which women and men do different kinds of work, have different pay levels and experience ongoing segregation and hierarchy. This division is underpinned by the way in which society views gender roles, ideologies and norms and has given rise to the phenomenon of subcontracting and demands for increased demands for casual work and flexibility in the workplace, especially in the sectors where most women work, thus subjecting women to further exploitation or lack of access to any form of legal and social protection or benefits. (Gita Sen, "Gendered Labour Markets and Globalisation in Asia," UNCTAD/EDM/Misc.133, p6.)
CREATING THE "INFORMAL" ECONOMY Working women in East and South East Asia are systematically pushed into the informal sector of the economy, or rather, the sectors of the economy which are undergoing "informalization." This has happened as many social structures have withered away, increasing their burden of economically and emotionally sustaining their families.
The precarious position of Asia's women workers is compounded by persisting discriminatory and patriarchal value systems throughout the region. In particular, the persistent patriarchal ideology which designates the male as "breadwinner" and the income of women as merely supplementary has maintained the devaluation of women's work and is used to justify the employment of women as short-term, irregular (euphemistically called "flexible") workers, with low wages and no protection or security.
Almost all new jobs for women are in this "informal economy," particularly in the so-called care industries: domestic work, entertainment, nursing, teaching, the sex industry, outsourced back offices and call centers. In manufacturing, they are concentrated in food processing and the garment and textile industries, which more and more are being transformed into …