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This collection contributes to key theoretical debates about women workers in Asia and breaks new ground by focussing on issues that have been little documented in other studies in the area. It provides new information and insights into labour systems associated with labour intensive export manufactures and state-labour relations in a comparative context. The contributors present a range of unique and varied perspectives from which they consider aspects of the increasing integration of Asian economies, exploring implications for their labour markets.




This book attempts to break new ground by focusing on issues that have been little documented in studies of women workers in Asia, and provides new information and insights on labour systems associated with labour-intensive export manufactures, and state-labour relations in a comparative context. First, the study examines women’s employment in the manufacturing sector within the context of economic globalisation, state industrialisation policies and labour systems associated with the new international division of labour. Second, it considers women’s increased participation in the paid workforce within the rapid social and economic development that took and is taking place in Asia. Third, the book approaches the changing participation of women in the labour force from an institutional and structural (non-economic) as well as an economic perspective by focusing on the following: changing economic structures and employment opportunities; demographic change and patterns of marriage and fertility; and changing attitudes toward female education and employment. Fourth, its focus on a wide range of countries at different stages of development and of differential size allows us to use cross-sectional data to illuminate common issues and think systematically about women’s employment in industrialising Asia.
Amarjit Kaur

1. Framing Women Workers in Asia: Gender-Related Socio-Demographic and Developmental Indicators

Any discussion of gender-related issues for industrialising Asia must be placed in the context of recent and current economic, social and demographic trends and changes. Increased female literacy and higher educational attainment have led to easier entry for women into the paid workforce, and with this, increased social security and related benefits. However, gender relations are often disparate, even in the most developed countries, and this inequality is manifested in the household, the economy and the polity. In some Asian countries, women’s full participation in economic development and public life is precluded by both legal and customary barriers. In Asian countries where women’s employment has contributed significantly to industrial development, the gender gap in wages remains wide. The need for women to balance productive and reproductive responsibilities is often neglected and labour laws and social policies are often gender-blind.
Ian Metcalfe

2. Economic Globalisation, Trade Liberalisation and Labour-Intensive Export Manufactures: An Asian Perspective

The term globalisation is employed across a wide spectrum to describe the on-going processes of integration of countries into the global economy. Globalisation is not new. According to Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson, ‘[g]lobalisation has evolved in fits and starts since Columbus and de Gama sailed from Europe more than 500 years ago’ (Lindert and Williamson, 2001: 1). It has also assumed different forms, depending on the interactions between states, and the economic imperatives of colonial powers. In its most recent form after World War II, and especially since the 1970s, globalisation is consistent with the establishment of an international institutional structure; the restructuring of manufacturing and role of multinationals in industrialisation in developing countries; and trade liberalisation. Moreover, the extent or level of a country’s integration into the international economy is being measured in terms of economic growth; and the economic performance of different states is assessed in relation to one another. This has raised concerns that growth is being emphasised at the expense of development, and these concerns have been manifested in protest campaigns against globalisation around the world, from Seattle to Sydney.
Amarjit Kaur

3. Female Wage Labour in Perspective

It is a commonplace that rapid industrialisation in Asia and in other parts of the developing world during the latter decades of the twentieth century owed much to the cheap labour provided by women, and often children. Such labour has been, all still is, dominant in a number of manufacturing occupations, and is particularly evident in the labour intensive industries which characterise the early stages of industrialisation. Garments, textiles, leather goods, electronic assembly, simple plastics and such like are all occupations where female labour often predominates.
Malcolm Falkus

4. Women, Work and Household in Industrialising Asia

The journey from the field to the factory has always been seen as more arduous and more transformative for women. Industrialisation, it is believed, causes a sharp, sudden, dysjuncture in the pattern of women’s work. In the old family-household system women (and children) were part of family labour, included in the household’s economic activity. The factory-workshop system requires women to travel to a site of production physically separated from the home and as individual wage-workers. The implications of the factory-workshop system are manifold but two have acquired prominence in the last century and a half. First, ‘going out to work’ means the neglect of women’s primary mothering and wifely roles of maintenance and reproduction. Second, the ‘freeing’ of women’s labour from the fold of the family undermines the authority and control — familial, of course, but also societal — over women’s labour and sexuality. It is now recognised that the manner and extent of these changes, however, vary widely across cultural and historical contexts (Shorter, 1976; Hufton, 1983).
Samita Sen

5. The Global Factory: Cross-Border Production Networks and Women Workers in Asia

The international economy has undergone two major changes. The first is the global restructuring of manufacturing, coinciding with the shift of labour-intensive manufacturing production from the United States, Japan and Western Europe to developing countries in Asia and elsewhere. The second is the shift from manufacturing to services in the developed nations, consistent with technological change and the blurring of the distinction between manufacturing and services. Both these changes have had tremendous implications for the Asian developing nations. First, the partitisation of industry, where the various stages of manufacturing have become separate and dispersed, has meant that simple tasks can be transported elsewhere by the multinational enterprises, the drivers of this changing manufacturing structure. Second, skilled tasks are performed by workers in developed countries while simpler tasks are carried out by predominantly unskilled workers in countries that are located at the other end of the global supply chain.
Amarjit Kaur

6. Sub-Contracting, Small-Batch Production and Home-Based Women Workers

The practice of sub-contracting in industry has grown markedly as a tool of production in global commodity chains over the past 30 years. The reasons include: the portability of multinational corporations’ operations, consistent with economic globalisation; cross-border production networks associated with cost-cutting benefits for manufacturers and entrepreneurs; and the demand for flexibility in production output. Sub-contracting arrangements are also associated with avoidance of national and international regulations, particularly as they relate to labour standards.
Denis Wright

7. Japanese Women and the ‘Cult of Productivity’

Women workers in Japan — costed, not valued. It would be quite easy to paint this picture of Japanese women workers since the late nineteenth century. Until the late 1970s women’s enormous contribution to Japan’s industrialisation was not recognised by historians. In Japan, it was a book by Yamamoto Shigemi (Yamamoto, 1977) written for a popular audience, and later made into a film, that exposed the deplorable conditions of women workers in the early textile mills. Then in the early 1980s Mikiso Hane conveyed the picture to Western audiences to reveal the ‘underside’ of Japan’s economic success story (Hane, 1982). Meanwhile, the wave of women’s liberation movements in the early 1970s had stimulated the emergence of a feminist women’s history that also depicted the exploitation of women industrial workers. But while all these pioneering studies were obviously sympathetic to women, they tended, like earlier labour histories, to portray the women workers as passive victims, uninterested or incapable of protest.
Elise K. Tipton

8. Women Workers and Health: Semiconductor Industry in Singapore and Malaysia

Since 1965, when Taiwan first set up a free trade zone (FTZ), Asian countries have vied successfully for foreign manufacturing investments. A variety of export-oriented, ‘world market’ factories were set up for the production of such commodities as toys, textiles, garments, electronics, sporting goods and footwear.
Vivian Lin

9. Labour, Industry and the State in Industrialising Asia: An Overview

Two major dimensions of globalisation in most Asian countries since the 1970s have been first, structural change in their economies associated with industrialisation, and second, labour becoming closely associated with industrial work. The agrarian—rural character of most of these countries, centred on commercial agricultural and mining activities, was transformed by the emergence of large-scale enterprises located in urban areas. This transformation was consistent with two developments: the drift of labour from the country, and the increased participation of women in the manufacturing sector. Export-oriented industrialisation in most of these countries also coincided with the greater concentration and centralisation of capital by multinational corporations (MNCs) and the growth of cross-border production networks. As a result, both governments and workers became dependent on the MNCs for job-creation, especially in the free-trade zones, which functioned as global manufacturing enclaves. New forms of work arrangements also emerged in the labour-intensive manufacturing sector, such as sub-contracting and home-based work, and all of these impacted on employment conditions and the labour movement. How have women workers coped with these changing economic realities?
Amarjit Kaur

10. Women, Labour Standards, and Labour Organisation

The provision of adequate labour standards is of vital significance to women workers in Asia’s industrial work forces. Women form a significant proportion of the total labour force — except in South Asia (Horton, 1996: 8; Brasted, 2000: 199–201) — and in some industries, notably garments, are an overwhelming percentage. Since women generally work in the lowest-paid jobs, with the lowest security of employment, and often work long hours in unsatisfactory working conditions, the acceptance and enforcement of good labour standards and practices has become a matter of critical concern.
H. V. Brasted


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