The Women Labour Force And Its Role In Globalization


How far is the process of equality among genders in the working world advanced? Are women really equally treated when it comes to wages and working chances? Is the employment situation for women really fair or are there obstacles making it harder for women to enter the labour work force? How hard is for women to get top managerial jobs? Are there are any barriers which make this process more difficult? These are all questions that many women today have to confront themselves with when entering the global labour work force.

Women in the UN

When looking at a report from Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the UN, the proportion of women in the UN at the levels in the Secretariat, with contracts for one year or longer, rose 1.7 % last year to 37.4 % on the end of June of this year. Furthermore, 83.3 % of staff at the lowest professional level, called the P-1, was made up by women but only 16.7 % of the highest staff level, the Under-Secretaries-General, was formed by women. What are the reasons for that? Is it more difficult for women to get employed at the highest staff level? What the report in general showed was that the analysis of the longer-term trends portrayed a picture of uneven progress in women’s representation at all levels. The reasons for that included unacknowledged biases among hiring managers who are not being held accountable. Moreover, another cause related was that the expectations were that managers must work long hours and always be available thereby fostering imbalances between work and home life. In addition, jobs for spouses of UN employees are not always easy to find in UN host countries according to the report and permission to work is sometimes slow in coming, making transfers impossible for some families. Like for every other company or organization the goal should be to have evenly distributed work chances for both genders which should also be reflected in the employment policy of the company. The annual growth rate towards this evenly distributed employment goal in the UN is expected to rise by only 0.4 % in professional and higher categories for appointments of one year or more. For positions filled according to geographical region, women make up 42.3 % of staff and the ratio is growing by 1 % per year according to the report. Although, “the United Nations are trying to create a work environment that is free of harassment, especially sexual harassment, and is remaining firmly committed to a zero-tolerance policy in this regard”, it is quite obvious that at lot of obstacles to women’s advancement in their jobs are present. It should be stressed however that these barriers to career progression for women become more informal and, thus, harder to identify, especially at the more senior levels of the United Nations. Women still, when entering the global labour force, have to face higher unemployment rates and lower wages combined with this “hidden” discrimination. Additionally, the chances to top managerial jobs remain slow, uneven and sometimes discouraging. Or is there any reasonable explanation why women cannot work long work hours and be always available and men compensate the home life?

Women in the UN Secretariat: Change in % (1996 and 1999 compared)

Note: Data is from June 30, 1996 and June 15, 1999. Some of the data from the original UN tables was left out, showing the lower grades of P-1, P-2, P-3, P-4 and P-5. These levels are represented by the row "other". The table shows the highest grades at the organization – Secretary General (SG), Deputy Secretary General (DSG), Under Secretary General (USG), Assistant Secretary General (ASG), D-2 (the upper-level "Director"), and D-1 (the lower-level "Director"). Also note that the position of DSG did not exist in 1996 .

*The Secretary General names all persons occupying top positions at the level of Under Secretary General (USG) and Assistant Secretary General (ASG). The tenured International Civil Service ranges from D-2 (the upper-level "Director") and D-1 (the lower-level "Director") through the “Professional” levels of P-5 to P-1. D-2 ranks as the highest level within the International Civil Service, while P-1 is the lowest.

General information about women opportunities

The issue of equally work opportunities for both genders is not just an issue in the UN; it is a daily topic all around the world. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) , last year, some 1.1 billion of the world's 2.8 billion workers, or 40 %, were women, representing an increase of nearly 200 million in the past 10 years. Through this increasing number of women in the labor force, equal chances of reaching the top of the jobs ladder should be present. According to the ILO, the explosive growth has not been accompanied by true economic empowerment for women. Neither has it led to equal pay for work of equal value nor to balanced benefits. Women’s share of managerial positions in some 60 countries ranges between 20 and 40 %. Therefore, true equality in the labor force is still not accomplished. While the gap in numbers has been closing in all regions since 1993, the rate has varied widely. In the transition economies and East Asia, the number of women working for pay per 100 men is 91 and 83, respectively, but in other regions such as the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, only 40 women per 100 men are economically active. This is a quite scary number indicating that in those areas the role of the woman in the work force is not that great as it might be for example in Europe. These number talk just about the general employment situation. But there are also parts in the labor work force that only concern women. The role of the woman in society in the Middle East, Asian or African countries for example is far more different than in the western world. Women in those areas do not have the same legal rights and therefore cannot take the same positions in companies as men. Through this discrimination the scope of work for women is already limited. If we take a look at the world's 550 million working poor, those unable to lift themselves and their families above the $1 per day threshold, 330 million, or 60 %, are women. If we would then add the 77.8 million women who are unemployed according to the ILO, it means that at least 400 million decent jobs would be needed to provide poor women with a way out of poverty. Furthermore, especially in some parts of Europe and Asia, the increased demand for a different kind of women's labor that has led to a dramatic and frightening increase in trafficking in women for prostitution and sex tourism. Women’s bodies become just another commodity to be bought and sold. Intimidation and physical and mental violence and abuse are omnipresent. Women have few if any legal protections or resources.

The effects of globalization

The opponents and promoters of globalization have one thing in common: undervaluing the role of women’s labor in this process. Women and their labor are the unspoken factor when it comes to globalization. As the policy makers of globalization make their decisions, women’s presence as both paid and unpaid labor, as consumers, care givers who take the role of the home life and even as community activists is taken for granted and necessary to the success of free market strategies. Although women do not necessarily have to be anymore the one staying at home and raising the children, it is still taken for granted and even the change in the role of the men, as not being the only wage receiver in the family, changes this cliché not in its basics. It is also taken for granted that women will be there to take on the extra burden of sick parents and children for example. If women and their labor are central to the processes of globalization, are they not entitled to the fullness of their rights, the right to work, the right to social protection and the right to bodily integrity?

Another important issue involved here is the transnational investment. Transnational investment is a key strategy of globalization. Transnational investors demand a cheap and flexible labor force. Although globalization gives a chance to companies to produce at a cheaper cost due to social dumping, the effect on workers is not the best one actually. The moving of production to other countries, where the laws are not so strict, gives companies a lot of breaks. But the fear of workers loosing their jobs is often an underestimated effect of globalization. Also, poor nations and communities recruit particularly women workers in order to compete for investors by keeping wages as low as possible and safety requirements at a minimum. Women are very often temporary, part-time workers and/or home-based workers, with little access to benefits, no job security in a low wage service sector job. However, this is the sector of largest job growth in many countries. The question is then where is a woman worker’s right to freely choose a job which pays equal pay for work of equal value when woman worker’s right to safe and healthy working conditions and fair wages do not make it possible for them a existence worthy of human dignity? Does globalization give women equal opportunity for employment and protection from unemployment? There appears to be little or no room for the rights of women workers under globalization.

If women’s labor is a critical factor in many of the mechanisms that make globalization work then the impact of those mechanisms on women’s rights have to be taken seriously. The economic models that underpin globalization need to be transformed not just to ease women’s pain but to give them full respect for the role they can play in a global system of well-being and justice. A global economic system, in which women are central, must be one in which women enjoy their full human rights. It remains to be seen if women opportunities in the next years will increase. This can however only happen if the discrimination will decrease allowing women equal employment rights.


Obah Rose

Obah Rose

By Obah Rosaline

Rosaline Obah is a graduate from the University of Buea with a Bsc. In Journalism and Mass Communication, and women and Gender Studies. Presently Communication Secretary for the PCC in the Northwest Region, she has taken a profound interest in gender issues and presently writes a column on (Feminine line). She has also been contributing similar articles to The Eden Newspaper. Obah is currently the PRO of the Northwest Chapter of the Cameroon Association of English Speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ).


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