Globalization and Women in the Middle East

Article excerpt

In this short paper I will briefly discuss globalization in its different dimensions, identify its gender aspects, and discuss how it affects the Middle East and especially women in the region.

First, globalization is a complex and multidimensional process in which the mobility of capital, organizations, ideas, discourses, and peoples takes on an increasingly transnational and integrated form. As such, globalization has economic, political, cultural, social, and spatial dimensions, although it is at heart an economic process driven by technological, financial, and business interests.

Globalization can be regarded as the latest stage of capitalism, with the major institutions of economic globalization being the transnational corporations (TNCs), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the US Treasury and even the ministries of finance of an increasing number of states. Economic globalization has its detractors and its enthusiasts. The enthusiasts claim that economic liberalization--of prices, trade and financial markets--will lead to domestic and foreign investments, economic growth, job creation, and higher standards of living. The detractors argue that it leads to cut-throat competition, reduced social spending, widening income gaps, growing inequalities, and rising unemployment. Feminists point out that in either case, it devolves upon women to provide both productive and reproductive labor, often with little or no remuneration, and with few social rewards. Of course, some women do fare well with economic globalization, but the available evidence shows that there is a serious downside to the global shift from Keynesian to neoliberal economics.

Political globalization refers in part to an increasing trend toward multilateralism and transnational political activity in which the United Nations plays a key role; national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) act as watchdogs over governments; transnational advocacy movements increase their activities and influence, and moves are made toward the establishment of an International Criminal Court. Some have called this the making of a global civil society, while others have raised concerns about the continued political power of the countries of the North Atlantic. Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Political scientists and sociologists have pondered the prospects of the nation-state and national sovereignty, in a context of regionalization and globalization in which international financial institutions and other institutions of global governance have increasing power over national economies and state decision-making.

Cultural globalization refers to worldwide cultural standardization--as in "Coca Colonization" and "McDonaldization"--and also to postcolonial cultures, cultural pluralism, and "hybridization." The various aspects of globalization have promoted growing contacts between different cultures, leading partly to greater understanding and cooperation and partly to the emergence of transnational communities and hybrid identities. But globalization has also hardened the opposition of different identities. This has taken the form of reactive movements such as religious fundamentalisms, which seek to restore traditional patterns, including patriarchal gender relations, in reaction to the "westernizing" trends of globalization. Various forms of identity politics are the paradoxical outgrowth of globalization.

Consistent with the contradictory nature of globalization, the impact on women has been mixed. One feature of economic globalization has been the generation of jobs for women in export-processing, free trade zones, and world market factories. This has enabled women in many developing countries to earn and control income, and to break away from the hold of patriarchal structures, including traditional household and familial relations. …