Feminization through Flexible Labour: Jeanne Hahn

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Jeanne Hahn's article touches on the importance of women's work through flexible labour (work that is typically done by a man); gender equality is a goal that is set forth by the world bank, however, development projects that encourage women's income-earning activities operate on the assumption that women's time is free and that women would be idle if they were not engaged in production.

Micro projects are focused towards income generating activities that stablize household income and positively contribute to the perceived status of women, however at the same time these micro projects contribute to maintaining the patriarchal status quo.

Micro-enterprise development projects, therefore, have to re-think the basis on which theyoperate if patriarchal biases are to be broken and quality economic activities for women are tobe created. However, it is not merely gender ideologies that needs to be addressed in a projecton quality of women’s employment, there is also a need to locate homework in the context ofthe global political economy.

Rural production in most developing countries is based on the putting-out system, withintermediaries providing raw material and paying on a piece-rate basis. For example, theincreased presence of garment factories in many developing countries did coincide with a rise inthe number of home-workers. Home-workers are, therefore, embedded in the capitalist systemof production22 that take advantage of women’s labour, which is cheap, abundant, and defined within women’s household tasks.

The utilisation of cultural norms of seclusion in Lahore, Pakistan for homework is anexample of the fusion between “traditional” gender ideologies and “modern” capitalist relationsthat continues to relegate women into a marginal status in the political economy (Weiss 1996,Ibrahim 1996). The gendered space, which is derived from class norms too, is used in such amanner as to get women do same/similar work as men. They are, however, paid less becausethe myth of “man the provider” prevails through it fusion with seclusion norms in Pakistan(Weiss 1996:83).

Another example can be drawn from South Asia. In India traditional household industriesare declining, reflecting a decrease in craft production, but home-based workers continue sincethey are drawn into systems of industrial production. Resorting to sub-contracting does benefitEPZs and MNCs since unionisation is circumvented, high wages are not paid, and employmentguarantees and benefits are avoided (Portes 1994b). But it is also a solution for women who arestruggling to make ends meet, in the face of increasing economic pressure (Hahn 1996).

Therefore, where government schemes do promote home-working projects, demand forproducts may be regularized but wages and working conditions are essentially left out of thepurview.

Decent work is not simply employment and access to income; it is also about creatingquality employment and improving conditions of work. Explicit deregulation of the labourmarket pursued through new economic policies and strategies is hardly conducive for home-base workers, since existing labour laws and regulations does little to redress the particularstatus of women workers in the informal sector. In India, for example, IMF/World Bankrequirements to push forth labour deregulation is a cause for concern, since it is detrimental toboth men and women workers, with women workers in the informal sector likely to carry agreater burden (ibid:224). Another issue linked to neo-liberal economic policies is the industrialrestructuring taking place in India, which has lead to women workers ending-up with out-workand sub-contracting work where they are underemployed. In India, women workers in home-based work is the lowest paying sector for women workers (ibid:224).

In conclusion, Hahn's “global fminization through flexible labour” is that Micro and macro-level evidence from India is similar to that of other First and Third World countries. Many forms of work are being redesigned to more clearly resemble traditional women's work, and women are being substituted for men in these jobs. Other jobs being carried out by both men and women are being removed from the factory or small workshop and placed back into the home as female piece work.

Works CitedHahn, Jeanne, 1996. "Feminization Through Flexible Labour: The Political Economy of Home Based Work in India" (pp.219-238) in Eileen Boris and Elizabeth Prugl eds. Homeworkers in Global Perspective, New York: Routledge.