Globalization and gender relations

The World Economic Forum has just published its 2011 series of reports examining in detail a broad range of global issues, including the Global Gender Gap Report, designed to measure gender-based inequalities in 135 countries. Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) continue to hold top spots having closed over 80% of their gender gaps. But the report shows a slight decline over the last year in gender disparities rankings for Brazil.

“Gender gaps close when countries recognize economic and social imperatives. With the right policies, change can happen very quickly," says co-author Laura Tyson, S.K. and Angela Chan Professor of Global Management, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley, USA.

However, despite the economist’s enthusiasm, many social scientists share a criticism: “The concept of gender gap used by these indexes is wrong, seriously over simplified. It treats men and women simply as a collection of individuals, with certain levels of income and education, rather than thinking about gender in terms of relationships and the way these relationships prevent or enable social development of the people involved”, says Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell, Professor at the University of Sydney.

Born Robert William Connell, Raewyn is one of the most influential Australian sociologists. Her research fields go from large-scale class dynamics, poverty and education, sociology of knowledge, sexuality and AIDS prevention to social change and gender relations. Her book “Masculinities” (1995) was one of the founders of this research field.

On the same day the Global Gender Gap Report came out, Connell gave a talk on Masculinities and Globalization at State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), hosted by CLAM.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2011

The Global Gender gap Report 2011: Rankings and Scores

“The problem is that this report is promoted by a forum of businessmen. They make profits from gender gaps, from the existence of low paid labor force, which are, to a significant extent, constituted by gender. Imagine the ‘maquiladoras’ and other low wage exploitation manufacturing industries in many parts of the world, which are an important part of the deregulated global economy. They are running business to exploit women and now they are complaining about gender gaps. That’s outrageous. What are their concerns about that?”, Connell remarks.

According to the sociologist, the complexities of gender are missing in these statistics. “They treat men and women as separate, as completely distinguished blocks and do not recognize differences between them. We know that there are different practices of masculinities and that gender inequalities are greater in some social contexts, according to the social reality. This report tells us nothing about institutions and their functioning, about customs and practices of their employment. Sometimes these reports don’t even include some practices, such as violence”, said the Professor after the lecture.

Raewyn Connell conducted a Transnational Masculinity Project involving 40 business people – especially middle level managers (both men and women) – from international companies. Interviewees worked for companies that operate in Australia, Chile, Japan and South Africa. During the field work, which was done four years ago, male managers were asked about their domestic and social lives with their wives and children and their social life.

“Business people are one of the most influential groups in the whole world. But our study shows that there have been no dramatic changes. At the higher or lower management levels of these companies, women are still a minority, although we found out there’s more domestic partnership. But the patterns of masculinity have not changed much”, says Connell.

According to the Professor, the impact of globalization on masculinities and on gender relations varied. “Globalization is not a satisfactory concept. It usually suggests that the world is becoming one pattern and that’s not true. There are structures of inequalities, structures of exploitation and different practices of masculinity. Neoliberal globalization has certainly impacted masculinity in quite complex ways. It has created more economic insecurity for very large groups of men around the world, which is in contradiction with the circulation of an image of heterosexual masculinity. That is a tension that exists now as the result of globalization in many parts of the world”, she believes.

On the other hand, Connell also believes that neoliberal globalization can be a benefit for some groups of men who were formerly very much stigmatized or marginalized.

“Neoliberalism tends to individualize people, to treat people as individuals rather than members of families and communities. Individuals also gain some important rights, individual rights. So, in some circumstances they are actually gaining from the growth of neoliberalism”.