Elusive justice
Rumina Sethi

Engendering Human Security: Feminist Perspectives
Eds. Thanh-Dam Truong, Sadkia Wieringa and Amrita Chhachhi. Women Unlimited, New Delhi. Pages 331. Rs 450.

Debates about globalisation involving the growing distance between North and South have become so dominant that feminist analysis of women in this context has been virtually neglected. This is particularly true after the September 11 events when the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis marginalised women altogether in view of the discussions on fundamentalism, markets and globalisation that followed.

With the onset of globalisation, women of the developing world have been severely affected. The discrepancy with the local that global capitalism has bred has led to rapid changes in the lifestyles of women in developing economies. The onset of global capitalism has had a tremendous effect on the mode of production and the individual’s traditional role within it. Globalisation, or perhaps one should call it ‘corporatism’, may have favoured female employment but the temporary and part-time nature of such employment and low wages have bred insecurity among women. Very often, this leads to a rejection of modernity and its promotion under forms of economic liberalisation. The changing relations and negotiations with the state as reflected in the lives of these women are well brought out in this collection of essays.

Since the militarisation of society is linked closely with global supremacy and economic hegemony is possible only with the help of a powerful army, the first essay by Sunila Abeysekera raises issues about the threat to women’s security in areas of armed conflict. The unstable nature of a woman’s identity coerces her to conform to certain ‘proper’ roles outlined and enforced by the nation, failing which she is marginalised. The author aims to explore the ways in which women can find a point of stability and security after the end of armed struggle. This can only be achieved through ‘the participation of women in formal political structures and their capacity to push for institutional and structural commitments to the elimination of violence against women.’

Rachel Kurian’s essay shows how immigrant women bear the brunt of capital accumulation in the hands of a few. The large number of Asian women who work as domestic help in the rich households of developed countries points towards the pressures of globalisation permeating deep into the circulation of labour. The issue of sex trade is also closely linked with the ‘dark side’ of globalisation. Noeleen Heyzer traces the trafficking of women and children, a multi-billion dollar industry today. ‘Hospitality’ trade, ‘mail order brides’, ‘marriages of convenience’ and ‘warm body export’ are terms euphemistically used for flesh trade in the same way as ‘comfort women’ was used for Korean women who served as sex slaves for the Japanese troops during the second World War.

If one looks at the employment base, trans-national corporations employ far more women workers than men, primarily because they are paid the least. They are thus regarded as easily replaceable, even redundant in the global market. Unfortunately, the movement against corporatism tends to include the women’s movement as its subsidiary. This is rather like the Marxist approach which subsumes all other struggles, or the nationalist struggles in colonised countries that tended to appropriate all other revolutions. Time alone will tell whether the anti-globalisation demonstrations will be empowering for women. But suffice it to say that in the corporate system, women are earning less than men, especially women of the developing world.

In the agricultural sector, particularly, women are finding themselves removed from traditional ways of functioning and knowledge associated with an agrarian economy. To take just one example, women’s age-old function of treating, sorting and preserving seeds has fallen into disuse owing to the imposed practice of growing genetically modified crops. By taking the example of a Trinidadian wetland, the Nariva Swamp, Rhoda Rheddock challenges mainstream approaches to environmental research as well as state policy towards agricultural resource use and settlement.

Not only should greater attention be paid to the framing of economic policies to prevent the neglect of women, but also mainstream feminist movement should not cut itself off from women’s grassroots problems. The issues that the contributors raise are extremely important to prevent globalisation from becoming a male discourse.