New Research Explores Connections between Development and Gender Empowerment

 

Beth English, director of LISD's project on Gender in the Global Community, has co-authored a new research paper, "Better Work Beyond the Workplace," published by the International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corporation. The paper, co-authored with Kelly Pike, Assistant Professor at York University, is part of the ILO's Better Work Discussion Paper Series, an original, peer-reviewed series that presents rigorous research for researchers, policymakers, and development practitioners to generate comments and encourage discussion.  

The paper notes that women’s increasing entry into paid work has not been accompanied by a corresponding change in the gender division of unpaid labor in the household and community. Though women increasingly participate in the labor market, the expectation is that they will also take responsibility for the household. To what degree does women’s waged work in the garment industry transform gender norms and dynamics in their home lives? To what extent do the choices they make at the household level translate to their empowerment? This paper examines these questions by looking at data collected on gender dynamics at work and at home in the clothing industries of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kenya, Lesotho and Vietnam. While the extent to which women’s empowerment through employment in the garment sector remains fundamentally circumscribed by low wages, financial insecurity, and gendered expectations, the paper finds that Better Work has expanded the space in which women are able exert agency over their earnings within the context of household resource allocation, and has decreased the negative effects of ongoing and systemic financial precarity.

Beth English is director of LISD's project on Gender in the Global Community. She is a lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program, and is also an instructor with Princeton University’s Prison Teaching Initiative. She received her Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary, where she was a Glucksman Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor, and has taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. English's research and teaching focus primarily on gender, historical and contemporary labor and working-class issues, politics and society, global economy, and the U.S. and Global Souths. She is the co-editor of Global Women's Work: Perspectives on Gender and Work in the Global Economy (with Mary E. Frederickson and Olga Sanmiguel-Valderrama); author of A Common Thread: Labor, Politics, and Capital Mobility in the Textile Industry; and a contributing author to several edited volumes. Her recent articles include, "Global Women's Work: Historical Perspectives on the Textile and Garment Industries" (Journal of International Relations).

Kelly Pike is Assistant Professor in the School of Human Resource Management at York University. She earned her PhD from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. She specializes in the role of worker voice and participation in the regulation of international labor standards, with a particular focus on the global garment industry in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her research contributes to the literature on regulating labor in global value chains. In her current research she examines the relationship between multi-stakeholder initiatives and compliance with labor standards, with particular interest in the role of industrial relations, trade unions, worker-management committees, and other forums for activating worker voice. In 2018-19, Kelly was a major research partner on the project Decent Work Regulation in Africa, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, in partnership with colleagues in the UK and South Africa. A central aim of the project was to establish a regional network of researchers and policy-makers who have an interest in effect labor regulation.