Women Workers and the Politics of Claims-Making in a Globalizing Economy

Organization(s): UNRISD
Author: Naila Kabeer
Regions: Global South
Year: 2015
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The paper analyses the evolving politics of claims-making by women workers in the Global South in the context of a globalized economy. It addresses the following questions. What kinds of claims are prioritized in relation to women workers? Who is making these claims? To whom are they addressed? What strategies are pursued to advance these claims? Which claims are heard and acted on—and which go unheard?

The paper considers three categories of women workers: those working in global value chains, those working for domestic markets and those working as cross-border migrants. It also distinguishes between claims made by, with and on behalf of women workers. The analytical framework weaves ideas on the politics of gender-equality claims-making with work on the politics of recognition, redistribution and representation and analysis of the strategies deployed by transnational networks.

The right to organize and to engage in collective bargaining is one of the most controversial rights when it comes to workers, particularly in global value chains. The assertion of this right frequently causes capital to cut and run in search of a cheaper and more docile labour force, and in turn, the fear of losing capital makes it harder for states to side with workers. States appear more responsive to some of the claims advanced by domestic workers’ organizations, but here too they appear to be more responsive to some claims (the extension of social protection to marginalized groups) than others (eliminating exploitative practices at work).

The paper highlights the importance of “framing” within the strategies drawn on to make claims by, with and on behalf of women workers, because beyond the resources they are able to mobilize, the ability to put claims in compelling narratives determines their effectiveness in mobilizing wider support and resonating with those who have the power to act on those claims. It also argues that the construction and consolidation of associational power has to be factored in as a strategy in itself, particularly when it comes to women workers in the informal economy who are largely overlooked by the trade union movement.


Social Protection and Human Rights