Published in the Summer 2004 issue • Features
Slaves to the System
Globalization has made production faster, the rich richer and our world more connected. But at what cost to girls? A primer on the issues
Alina works on an assembly line in a factory in a small town in the Philippines. She spends 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, sewing pockets onto blue jeans that will be sold in North America. She sews about one pocket every 10 seconds — almost 4,000 pockets a day. Alina, who is 17 years old, often works 48- or 72-hour shifts, and earns about $5 Canadian a day. And while teenagers in Canada worry about handing in homework assignments, Alina must present a bloody tampon to her supervisor each month as proof she is not pregnant.
Girls such as Alina are part of the global economic system. As multinational corporations have grown over the past 25 years, they have moved production facilities to places such as the Philippines, Mexico and China, where labour is cheap and impoverished women are desperate for jobs.
Alina could be any one of the millions of girls and women in poor countries in the Global South who reflect the face of globalization. There are 63 million young girls in developing countries not enrolled in school, and millions of child labourers in the developing world under the age of 18, most of whom are female. Globalization is a girls’ issue — and not just in the sweatshops.
Consider the booming global sex trade. In Thailand alone, there are about one million young women between the ages of 15 and 34 selling sex. The majority of these women were kidnapped, sold by their impoverished parents, or forced by government policies to find work. In most cases they are expected to send money back to support their families, and sometimes their government.
Writer Denise Brennan describes these women as “local agents caught up in a web of global economic relations,” which implies that there is more to their situation than meets the eye. Girls and women have not just found themselves in unfortunate situations. They do not grow up dreaming of working on an assembly line in a sweatshop. Their lives have been affected by the complex interplay of governments, international trade organizations and assumptions about gender — all under the name globalization.
It seems like everyone’s got globalization on the brain.
The G-word is tossed around on the nightly news and embedded in newspaper articles about almost everything. Sometimes it’s a buzzword used by men in suits, other times it’s painted on the signs of protestors at demonstrations around the world. Globalization is a hot topic for governments, environmentalists, activists, farmers, bankers, fashionistas and CEOs. But what does it mean?