Women in Comparative Societies
The Light Industry Girls:  The Engine of Globlization

“Light” Industry
traditionally: textiles, garment, food processing
now also:  electronics

Nature of the work:
Low paying, repetitive, noisy, often with very poor air quality.

Jobs segregated by gender even though women could perform most of the higher paying jobs performed by men

Common injuries/diseases suffered by women working in these industries:  hearing loss/deafness, lung ailments, repetitive motion disorders (“carpal tunnel syndrome”)

“Making Women’s Labor Cheap”
Cynthia Enloe, 1989, “Blue Jeans and Bankers,” Bananas, Bases and Beaches:  Making Feminist Sense of International Politics.  Berkeley: UC Press.

Enloe writes:
Definition of “skilled labor”:  the jobs that men do are described as skilled (e.g. in garment shops, cutting and pressing);

jobs that women do (sewing in garment shops, running spinning machines, weaving machines in textile plants) are labeled “unskilled”


The international economy works the way it does…in part because of the decisions which have cheapened the value of women’s work.

These decisions have first feminized certain home and workplace tasks—turning them into ‘women’s work’ – and then rationalized the devaluation of that work (Enloe, 160)

Without laws and cultural presumptions about sexuality, marriage and feminine respectability these transformations wouldn’t have been possible (160).


epz map

Number of workers by region

Why Women?
Political Clout/Organization:

Women who work in light industry are less politically important constituencies, less “militant” that traditionally male industries (mining, auto workers)

Traditionally, they have been under-organized, not unionized

the gendered nature of international development, global economy:  the well-dressed male investment banker vs. the over-worked, poorly dressed female garment worker

Negative Impacts of EPZs

Global sweatshop movement as a response

Arguments in Favor of Free Trade Zones
bring jobs and capital investment that would otherwise not be there
need to grow their way out of poverty

Quakers working to improve working conditions in N Mexico 

Fair Trade Movement
Global Exchange
Nike Campaign
Nike Code of Conduct