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Capitalism, Globalization and the Perpetuation of Women's Oppression: A Vicious Cycle

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Essay title: Capitalism, Globalization and the Perpetuation of Women's Oppression: A Vicious Cycle


By Kelsey Lavoie

NDYA, Provincial Youth Liason

According to the World Bank, women make up 70% of the world’s poor and their wages world wide are on average 50% to 80% of men’s. One third of all households word wide are headed by women, they are responsible for half the world’s food production, and yet they own just one per cent of the world’s property. The majority of workers in sweatshops are women and the majority of unpaid labour is done by women in every region of the world. Further, women make up two-thirds of the one billion people who are illiterate and 60% of the 100 million who have no access to primary education.

What is the link between these global conditions of inequality for women and global capitalism? Due to the complexities and contradictions involved in such a discussion, it is best to start by briefly defining the terms.

The term “globalization” is increasingly being tossed around as a global issue/ concept and with increasingly diverse connotations. The simplest definition claims that globalization is the process of making something worldwide in scope or application. That considered, globalization is neither an innately negative nor positive phenomenon. It can be referring to the spread of ideologies, political systems, social institutions, culture, and most influentially, economic systems. Ever since the end of the Cold War, capitalism has been the dominant economic system, and thus the focus of concern.

Capitalism, in common usage, means a socio-economic system in which: a) the means of production are privately owned, b) all decisions are subject to the demands of the profit motive, c) decisions regarding investment of capital are made privately, and d) production, distribution, the prices of goods, services, and labor are determined by the market forces of supply and demand.

Cheerleaders of capitalism claim that privatization of countries’ economies, elimination of trade and business regulations, increase of free trade and the reduction of the public sector, are all essential to raise the living standards and opportunities for those in underdeveloped countries. They believe that increased efficiency of the market and economic growth innately correlate with increased living standards and wellbeing. This is not the case. Instead, global capitalism has lead to increased exploitation, oppression and an ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor. As the historically exploited sex, women are baring the brunt of the negative effects of global capitalism and are the least likely to gain from the limited benefits.

The perpetuation of capitalism on a global scale has resulted in the current state of underdevelopment and dependence experienced by �less developed countries”. This is reflected in how the socio-economic and political structures of the dependent countries are structured to subordinate a country’s domestic needs to foster and nurture the economic interest of the “developed” countries. This situation has existed since the days of colonialism, but has become increasingly powerful with the formation of institutions and structures such as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). In response to the debt crisis of the 1980’s the IMF, which professed wanting to help less-developed countries, imposed structural adjustment policies and austerity measures which involved cutting public spending, privatization of government programs and forced opening of markets to foreign investors.

Women are the most drastically affected by these structural adjustment policies because of the elimination of day care centers as well as the privatization of schools and health care systems, which results in closed hospitals, wage cuts, job losses and falling standards of care. Such policies also lead to a decline in quality and increased costs for all public systems, such as access to tap water, electricity, and public transport. Women are the first to pay for these measures entailing harsher living conditions and a significant increase in the free labour they must perform. When education and medical care have to be paid for in these dependent countries,

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