Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 25, February 2011
Ligaya Lindio-McGovern and Isidor Wallimann, eds.

Globalization and Third World Women:
Exploitation, Coping and Resistance

Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2009
ISBN 978-0-7546-7463-4 (hbk), xii + 214 pp., price: US $99.95

reviewed by Xiaoxin Zeng

  1. As the forces of neoliberal economic globalisation are sweeping the world, Globalization and Third World Women, edited by Ligaya Lindio-McGovern and Isidor Wallimann, is a timely addition to the expanding volumes devoted to uncovering the complex outcomes of global flows of capital in search for cheap labour and resources, and carving out spaces for various experiences of resistance on the part of people whose lives are adversely recast. Epistemologically, this book is a feminist project that centralises the politics of Third World women who respond defiantly to global capitalism that has further marginalised and exploited their lives. Geographically, it includes ten substantive writings that examine women's experiences and strategic actions in multiple locales across the world. These writings not only highlight the unequal relationship of the North to South, but also lay bare regional inequalities within the South.
  2. In the introductory chapter of this book, Lindio-McGovern and Wallimann clarify the concept of globalisation by linking it explicitly to its ideological bases of neoliberal capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, therefore unearthing the unequal power relationships that both propel and are reinforced by transnational movements of capital and labour. They deliberately use the term "Third World women" to refer to any women who are exploited in the processes of neoliberal globalisation anywhere, especially in the non-industrialised world, to emphasise the uneven impact of these processes. In so doing, they debunk the seemingly benevolent narratives of global integration that operate on a constellation of globalisation with development with economic progress, and alert the readers to the exploitative nature of global capital expansion and accumulation under the regimes of First World and regional hegemonies. Moreover, the conceptual framework Lindio-McGovern and Wallimann adopt is also sensitive to the specific positioning of Third World women and therefore is useful for an understanding of how their lives are variously shaped, depending on their location within their nation as well as their nation's position in the global political economy.
  3. Following the introduction, the ten research articles are organised thematically, each presenting a case study of one aspect of globalisation that has deprived particular groups of women of their rights to define their needs and their access to resources, and/or has spurred their resistance against the disempowering forces of global capitalism. Despite the wide range of themes discussed in these articles, at least two common arguments can be identified that illuminate the directions the world is moving into in terms of social inequalities and politics against them.
  4. One consensus is that globalisation reorganises the sexual division of labour in such a way as to both reflect and reinforce economic inequalities between women and between nations. Martha Gimenez's article provides an overview of this trend. According to her, neoliberal globalisation, through the imposition of structural adjustment policies, has led to declines in male wages and male unemployment for the working class in poor countries. As a result, working-class women's responsibility to contribute to their family economy has expanded. One of their economic strategies is to migrate to richer countries for employment opportunities only to find low-paying, low-status jobs in the service sectors. On the other hand, deindustrialisation, downsizing, declining male earnings, outsourcing, growth in temporary work, and other factors in the United States have pushed middle-class American women to enter the paid labour force, therefore creating a demand for domestic services that they themselves will not do and must be performed by migrant women.
  5. This new arrangement of the sexual division of labour is not only manifested in the female migration from the South to the North, but also is evident in regional migration. Shireen Ally has demonstrated in her article that working-class women from Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Namibia migrate to work as domestic service providers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Although Robyn Magalit Rodriguez focuses on Filipina migrant workers' transnational struggles for social justice, she points out that Filipina migrant women have worked in the sectors of domestic and care services, among other gender-segregated occupations, in many countries outside the Philippines. However, in spite of an emphasis on class inequalities between domestic service providers and their employers in these aforementioned writings, race plays out in the globalised sexual division of labour as well. For instance, as Ally observes, demands of domestic services in white, middle-class households in South Africa are met by the labour of black women from poorer neighbouring countries.
  6. Another common theme is that Third World women's struggles to resist the negative impact of neoliberal globalisation on them extend beyond a gender politics to be tied with movements against classist, racist, colonialist and imperialist hegemonies. One example is Anne E. Lacsamana's article that stresses the inextricability of Filipina women's liberation from national liberation in a context where Western imperialism and colonialism have historically exerted their power in the Philippines and are continuing to do so in the processes of neoliberalist-informed global capital expansion. Similarly, Rodriguez demonstrates that Pilipina migrant workers (many of them are women), their families and relatives advocate for migrants' rights through a transnational grass-roots coalition called Migrante-International. They challenge not only the host states, but also the Philippine state that serves as a labour broker and benefits economically and politically from exporting cheap labour. Another example is Leigh Brownhill and Terisa E. Turner's writing that documents Kenyan women's continuing struggles for control over land and labour, which are not only part of their efforts to feed their individual families, but also part of social resistance against Western imperialism articulated through structural adjustment policies. In a similar vein, in Ann Ferguson's article, Mexican women left behind by male migrants to the U.S. form women's producers' cooperatives, both buffering the negative impact of globalisation on their families and mapping out an alternative development framework to the hegemonic neoliberal logic. Terisa E. Turner and Leigh Brownhill also demonstrate that Nigerian, Costa Rican, and Ecuadorian women's pressures on core corporate states to take a more active role in controlling the power of oil corporations and protecting the environment contribute to Third World women's politics against global movements of capital that ravage the earth's resources.
  7. The last three articles in this book also develop along the two lines of argument about social inequalities sharpened by globalisation and women's resistance, with thematic or methodological distinctive focuses. Christobel Asiedu examines activities of United Nations Development Fund for Women in Africa as a case study to discuss how discourses on information communication technologies produce knowledge about gender and economic growth from an expert perspective. Robert Dibie provides a general overview of social factors in Africa that reinforce gender inequalities and suggests possible pathways towards women's empowerment. Bandana Purkayastha and Shweta Majumdar look at the local, regional and global conditions that give rise to the trafficking of women from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh into India and responses thereto from governmental and non-governmental organisations.
  8. Overall, this book is a useful source for students and scholars who are interested in migration and economic globalisation. However, despite my appreciation of the vast geography across the world that this volume attends to, I was surprised at the only passing mentions of inequalities between newly industrialised countries and other poorer countries within East Asia in a few writings, consigning into oblivion by and large the influence of capitalist expansion on this region, and women's resistance there. Moreover, the writings in this book largely focus on economic inequalities and competition for material resources, and pay little attention to confrontations and negotiations of cultural hegemonies under the regimes of neoliberal capitalism. This privileging of economy over culture might be, as I suspect, partly informed by the Western imperialist ideology that constructs the West as the economic centre, and the rest of the world as the periphery embodying traditional cultures. To counter this imperialist ideology, social scientists should self-reflexively resist the hierarchical duality of economy and culture, and provide multi-dimensional perspectives on globalisation.
  9. Still, I would recommend this book to students and scholars in the areas of Asia and the Pacific studies, because it gives an important theoretical and political framework that links globalisation with power relations and social inequalities. Empirical evidence from the case studies included in this volume can also be used for a comparative understanding of global capitalist expansion in Asia and the Pacific.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Last modified: 1 March 2011 1051