Globalisation is sweeping across the Asian region and radically altering the social and economic environment of countries as well as having a differing impact on women and men. Women’s roles in the economies of the region are strong and increasing, yet they are to be found in the most vulnerable sectors of both employment and business. The deregulation of markets, increased competition and development of new technologies that have occurred as a result of globalisation and trade liberalization have led to a significant boom in subcontracting through homebased work and casual and part-time work. Growing competition has seen retailers and suppliers use various cost cutting strategies. The informal nature of home-based work makes it possible for employers to reduce costs by taking advantage of low wages, low overheads and the flexibility of a work force with few rights and a growing need for income. Subcontracting in industries such as garments, footwear, toys, plastics and electronics is taking place on an international scale.

Thus, while employment has expanded for women, a majority of women are concentrated in non-standard forms of employment which are insecure, yield low wages, provide little or no legal and social protection and often involve poor working conditions. These workers are dispersed, isolated, lacking in skills and access to information. As a result, their bargaining power to improve their situation and to gain an increased share of the benefits of globalization is extremely limited.

The Asian financial crisis dramatised the impact of globalisation. It has led to some painful effects in Southeast Asian countries such as loss of jobs, loss of markets, falling piece rates and profit margins and increased hours of work. The growing informalisation, as more people after losing their employment in the formal sector move to informal sector, has led to more competition for paid work and scarce resources (i.e. Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia).

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