Supervised by: Tuscany Parkin BA LLB (Rhodes) BCL (Oxon). Tuscany graduated with the BCL Masters of Law from the University of Oxford earlier this year, specialising in Jurisprudence, Competition Law and Comparative Contract Law. She is currently reading for the MPhil in Legal Philosophy (particularly the philosophy of contract law). Previously, she obtained her BA in English Literature and LLB Law with honours from Rhodes University.
The objective of this paper is to confront, assess and evaluate the impact of globalisation on women’s rights. Globalisation can be a force to advance women’s rights, but not when embraced without limit. The integration of developed and developing countries cannot fully dismantle the patriarchy, religious or cultural barriers. However, it continues to promote global interconnectivity through legislative initiatives enforced by economic interdependence and the impact of the media. In this regard, international communities can play a key role in human rights protection and promotion. They bring countries together and legislative material created later becomes implemented into individual countries, proving the positive effect of increasing globalisation on the promotion of women’s rights. Women’s rights is an ongoing and prevalent issue that has become more crucial than ever and a more globalised matter as the world begins to align their views with numerous countries pressing for progression.
This paper addresses the key aspects of this broad issue and will be divided up into two main sections. Firstly, we aim to judge whether political advocacy of women has been improved due to or in spite of globalisation. When women are in a position of power, this allows for more feminist legislation to be passed in parliament, such as the evolution of reproductive rights and their respective promotion and protection. Secondly, the passing of such legislation directly impacts the provision of reproductive rights. This is important, as women are often stripped of their freedom to make decisions about their bodies, unlike men; understanding women’s experiences globally will shed light on the purpose behind this violation of rights. It is important to keep economic globalisation as the background for our research, as it plays a crucial role in women’s rights and links with both arguments for political representation and reproductive freedom.
Barriers to women’s political representation
Women’s political representation stands as a test of a country’s democracy and gender equality. This is measured through the number of women in power as well as female suffrage in communities around the world. International institutions strive to uphold and improve what must be recognised and explored, analyse whether measures have actually worked, and decide if they should be continued. Without a doubt, there has been recognisable progress within our society. As of January 2021, the global share of women in national parliaments is 25.5%, an increase from last year (1). Global movements from international organisations such as the UN continue to push for further progression, with the UN Women Executive Director declaring that “no country prospers without the engagement of women.” Decision-makers structure our society and formulate legislation that dictates our common law. When there is gender inequality amongst those who hold power, there will be a trickle-down effect to the public. While there have been notable improvements in women’s empowerment for countries in developed nations such as those in Europe, there are still severe disproportionalities within developing countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. For example, both Thailand and Vietnam have no women in their national cabinet (2). The trickle-down effect becomes clear when there also still exist countries that deny women’s suffrage—most notably, Pakistan, Uganda and Kenya—meaning even normal women do not have a means by which to have their say in politics. This leads to them not being able to have a say in legislation, and forces them to follow laws created by men or face punishment.
Despite increasing benefits of globalisation, it is crucial to understand that globalisation could also hinder the progression of women represented in politics, due to the current sociological attitudes towards women. Alongside this, there is the undeniable possibility of the remergence of Islam Conservatism, which may rise with the exploitation of globalisation. What must be sought out is an overthrow of such values, where women are empowered to be active in decision-making procedures in legislation—be it within parliament or as a citizen.
Current status of representation
Globally, there is no doubt that there has been a genuine trend of increase in the amount of female political representation, however the specifics truly reveal that there is much more work to be done. Even looking upon world leaders, only 38 % of the nations studied by the World Economic Forum in 2016 have had a female head of government or state for at least one year in the past half-century (3). This was still an increase, however, from previous years when numbers had been lower than 20%. In 2017, there were 15 female world leaders in office—eight of which were their country’s first woman in power. The world is slowly beginning to see more and more women take charge in their country’s decision-making process. Europe sees three-fifth of their countries under female leadership (3). The current situation has been improving, and has improved significantly already, however the world and its leaders must not slack as representation has become more and more critical in our modern day society.
According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1977) and Dahlerup (1988), women would need to constitute at least 30% of the decision-making body in a country in order to properly have an influence on policies (4). Although there are many parts of the world where this has been fulfilled, there is significance in exploring countries with less developed economies. One such case study is Myanmar where despite having a female leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s representation of women in politics remains at only 3.9% of their national cabinet. Not only does this case reveal the need for more representation in government, either through legislative or social means, but it also exposes the deception of certain countries. Although having a female leader, she is known as the “mother of the nation” rather than a leader. It almost becomes inescapable that women become seen as “caring” and “nurturing”, even when in positions of great power; they become seen as a symbol of motherhood rather than one respected sincerely. Therefore, this leads to the idea that such revolutionary ideas must emerge from the common law, and not just from change at the top of society, as even if there were to be agreements on this issue amongst leaders, without the public’s support, its power would be lessened.
Barriers to women’s political representation
Before discussing legislative measures, there must be recognition of the barriers that women face in the first place. These barriers can be divided into three categories: cultural, socio-economic and psychological.
First, cultural factors relate to values, standards, beliefs and attitudes that underpin a society and its institutions and which animate the population’s ways of being, talking, and doing (4). The “masculine model” of the political sphere is what corrupts the voter’s minds, resulting in a lack of party support—including financial and political networks—for female candidates, and them subsequently being unable to gain a majority to be able to run for government (4). This results in the nature of the electoral system being strongly unfavourable to female candidates and leadership as a whole. Attempts to remove such attitudes towards women have been taken; international organisations like the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an international bill of rights for women (5). CEDAW advocates to end discrimination of women, with certain bills addressing governments. Despite this, many argue that this bill will not be adopted by the people, and will not be properly adapted into public perception.
Second, socio-economic factors act as a barrier to by impacting how well and how long we live (6). Primarily, a universal factor is the education available across all socio-economic groups in society. Although it may appear that there is adequate education for women in most countries across the world, through various crises, there is in fact increasing discrimination against the education of women. One such example is South Sudan—“named the toughest nation in the world for girls to receive an education”—with almost seventy-five percent failing to attend even primary school (7). Another socio-economic factor to take into consideration is employment. When there are barriers for women to gain the work experience needed to be able to become employed, their political representation becomes significantly hindered.
Finally, the third barrier pertains to the psychological lack of comprehension of gender equality. For centuries, the idea of masculine superiority has been ingrained in society, with women being adopted as “mothers” and “carers” in our patriarchal world. Despite this having been addressed in common law, with legislation being put in place in developed nations such as the Equality Act 2010 in the UK and the Guide to the German Equal Treatment Act in Germany, masculine superiority still remains the zeitgeist of the majority of society (8, 9). Even if the majority were to see the world through the lens of equality, however, due to the right to freedom of speech, there would persist those who hold onto and express ignorant viewpoints. This creates long term social barriers against women as they are unable to attract the votes they need to acquire political representation in government. On the other side, countries such as Yemen have no such laws designed specifically to protect women from gender-based violence, let alone ensure their access to employability and support (10). Women are further referred to as “sisters of men” who “have rights and duties” and need permission from their husbands in order to partake in any kind of formal activity. Despite signing the CEDAW and being monitored by the United Nations, Yemen continues to encourage discriminatory practices as the common law dictates that there is no need for such action to be constrained. As a result, even though human rights are broadly ensured through international organisations, without any formal threat, there is no way to guarantee that these rights will remain enshrined in any individual country’s laws.
Has globalisation affected it?
Positive impacts of globalisation
In an integrated world, globalisation strives to push for greater gender equality for several reasons. Namely, gender inequality in a globalised world is costly. International peer pressure amongst nations increases with connectedness, and the media’s exposure of certain maltreatments of women becomes more exposed, causing global outcry for change. When a country begins relying on other nations for elements such as trade and resources, a dependency builds towards that particular country. Hence, when there is more interdependence between these countries, when pressure is placed upon certain countries to alter or change a particular human right, there is more of an incentive to. In terms of goods, if a country has increased gender equality, there is also the likelihood that their goods and services become more internationally competitive, especially if the goods are female-intensive (11).
Furthermore, with international organisations such as the European Union and the United Nations, the exchange of views becomes a possibility through civilian holidays and the meeting of diplomats. Through this, internationally recommended policies can be passed on and the pressure increases for countries to ratify certain human right resolutions. Once ratified, these policies become slowly embedded into an individual country’s legislation. Through this manner, women become more likely to gain representation, and hence, once female representation becomes present or dominant in a larger nation (such as the P5 nations), there is an increased global initiative to act and pressure more repressive regimes.
Alongside the media, the world is more able to band together and support. Countries that have been negligent become exposed to the threat of the mass media, where criticisms begin to swell within a country, causing them to be forced into change. To add, when a country becomes economically empowered through trade, they are also able to revolutionise the female employment scheme and allow for greater welfare to be invested into women and their integration in society. The more women are able to represent themselves in work, the more that will be able to gain a seat at the top.
Negative impacts of globalisation
However, where does globalisation go wrong? As much as the voices of those who continually fend for greater female political representation rise, there also lies the rise in the opposing perspective (12). There lies the danger of conservatism across several religions, which inevitably damages globalisation’s positive impact. Religions with the most members are Christianity and Islam, with 2.38 billion and 1.91 billion adherents respectively (13). Although not all members will align with the conservative beliefs of these religions, religious beliefs as a whole provide slight barriers to the promotion of female representation in their own way, especially through the values they preach.
Chistianity contains numerous symbols that can create a “patriarchal and hierarchical reading” to their religious teachings. Daphne Hampson, an English theologian, claims that the overarching problem lies in the fact that Christianity is a historical religion and that “history is not dispensable” (14). This means that stories such as Adam and Eve, where Christians believe God took the rib of man to create women, inherently demonstrates women as inferior. Another instance is that, historically, Jesus Christ had been the son and flesh of God, and the chosen “flesh” was male. These androcentric texts create an anti-feminist world view. Even in the Vatican City, not only is it male dominated, they continue to not permit women to divorce and vote. Only in 2020–21 has the Pope begun to change things, however there is no guarantee this will continue with the next Pope. Legislation in Christianity, pioneered by the Vatican, continues to prove a barrier and through globalisation, these values could be spread and influence other Christians globally to adopt the same mentality. Islam also presents a similar lens, however it is not the texts that inevitably result in this. Instead, various interpretations taken to their extreme lead to such disastrous consequences.
This aspect of religion is also only one specific way globalisation could fail, there are also sovereign states across the world which become more and more isolationist and the effect of globalisation is reduced. What becomes worse is when those sovereign states engage in expansion and force their misogynistic views on other countries, trapping them. In theory, globalisation can be a powerful mechanism, but it is not yet utilised to its full potential. This therefore leads to its run-down effect on legislation that affects women particularly, such as abortion and reproductive rights.
Reproductive and sexual rights are a major aspect of women’s rights. They have been a prevalent part of the fight for equality in the past and now more than ever, as will be examined below. This section aims to investigate the social reasons behind certain attitudes towards women’s bodily autonomy. It will also analyse a case study of China and how its unique place in today’s globalised world has challenged and denied justice to women. In addition, influential and landmark legal cases will be assessed as well. All this will help us bring clarity as to whether globalisation has hindered or advanced women’s reproductive rights.
When considering the elements which constitute the basis of reproductive rights, we must address women’s freedom of choice and bodily autonomy. This includes, but is not limited to: the right to safe abortions and access to health services, the un-coerced usage of contraceptives, sex education at schools, and family planning choices. All these must be in accordance with each woman’s will, within the private sphere. In short, reproductive rights are healthcare rights which maintain personal dignity. This argument aims to assess the notion that an individual’s freedom to choose, the ability to consent, within the liberal democracy frame of reference, would facilitate a domino-effect of collective reproductive rights globally, leading to a greater respect, protection and promotion of them. The phenomenon of globalisation is interwoven within this topic of discussion. More specifically, what must be examined is: economic globalisation and interdependence, growing awareness via popular media and legal cases, and methodology concerning reproductive rights. It must be said, however, that differing political systems, cultures and religions are harnessed to support the pro-choice versus pro-life movement respectively. We must not fall into the trap of generalising the western world as a united front of a socially liberal outlook against the rest of the world diminishing said rights.
Pro-choice versus pro-life
Religion, or rather the way one shapes and perceives religious ideas in order to advance their argument, is a clear dividing line between pro-choice and pro-life stances (15). The thing to note here is the inability of some countries or regions to separate religion from state. Certain rulings, such as Christianity have factions within them, whether it be the claims of the Vatican that any use of contraceptives in itself is sinful and unnatural to the overarching idea that life begins at conception—what must be criticised in this argument is the greater value the potential of life is attributed with against the value of the mother herself, reflecting the institutionalised, entrenched structures of our world. Alternatively, one may put forth the argument of Judaism allowing abortion on the grounds that the woman’s life is at risk, however, this further proves the argument we make: the dehumanization of women is so extreme, so unnoticed, so camouflaged within our subconscious, that a female may only gain bodily autonomy once her right to life is at risk. With this in mind, religion is weaponized by the socially conservative to not “protect” a life, but rather uphold the patriarchy, painted as a cultural tradition, granting men greater reproductive rights over women’s bodies than women themselves. Furthermore, the Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of California, Berkeley, Kristin Luker cements this idea of how reproductive regulation has more to do with the status of women in society of being mothers, wives and nurturers, as opposed to the front put up by pro-lifers. Ironically, the life of women and their progression is disregarded. Professor Luker continues her argument on the basis of economics, labour and financial income—on women who oppose abortion, she states: “63 per cent of them do not work in the paid labour force”. This clearly shows the correlation between paid work and progressive ideas of women regarding reproductive rights.
Has globalisation had an impact?
When delving into globalisation, it’s important to not only scrutinise what the international community has done, but also what they have not done in response to human rights violations. China is an interesting example to use, as it has a vital economic position in the world, allowing us to investigate the extent to which human rights matter and if they are prioritised globally. Reproductive rights immediately turn our attention to the divide over the right to abortion, as talked above above, however, it it of paramount importance to look at the other end of the spectrum. If we are to analyse the case of the Uyghur Muslims in China, this abstract idea starts to take on context. The dehumanisation of the Uyghur minority women is evident in the forced abortions and sterilisations, women being fitted with IUDs, resulting in what has been coined as a “demographic genocide”. From 2015 to 2018 in the Hotna and Kashgar regions, the birth rate decreased over 60%. When we compare this to the statistic gathered across the nation, being only a 4.2% fall, we start to understand the gravity of the situation (16). Looking at this through the lens of the globalised world, we understand that there’s been no interference from the outside to try to preserve human rights. This may be attributed to China’s position in the world, more specifically their economic impact and their export-led growth. The proposal of sanctions is not only wishful thinking. It is also futile, because even if we were to disregard what is stated above, the country’s political system is not a democratic one. We can describe it as an authoritarian state–a “totalitarian surveillance state, and a dictatorship” (17). This cements the lack of accountability in place and so distorts the basic principles of a liberal democracy, creating a gridlock and international failure. Also, media coverage, or rather the unreliable propaganda spread both within and outside China’s border has proven a dangerously powerful tool in the silencing of the truth. In essence, we can understand that globalisation has increased economic interdependence and trade, leading to the neglect of human rights.
Pressure group activity
Arguably, human rights protection and promotion should be the responsibility of the government, however, the prominence of pressure groups proves to be a successful and competing factor in the performance of this function. In this context, the work of an International Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) must be considered, such as Amnesty International, which aims to raise public awareness of human rights abuses and violations of civil liberties on a global scale (18). A recent achievement of theirs has been a referendum result in Ireland on the 25th May 2018 which decriminalised abrotion in September 2018 for women who would have otherwise been prosecuted, allowing termination of pregnancy unconditionally for up to 12 weeks minimum (19). It is important to mention the significance of this result as expressed directly by the people granting the result popular sovereignty—as seen in the 66.40% ‘Yes’ vote—thus leading to the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment (1983) in the constitution. There is a synopticity link here between religion and abortion as discussed, with Ireland having a large Catholic population, so we can underline this success of a global campaign group. In addition, we must take into consideration social class and the economic status of each woman as an individual and the impact of this bill being passed. The argument we can outline is the fact that before the passage of this legislation it was those women at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder who were discriminated against more severely, as they could not afford to travel abroad and perform an operation, unlike those more privileged. We can assess that globalisation in this case has not only answered our question of it having helped the fight for women’s reproductive rights, but also has helped alleviate the income barrier as well and to an extent the furthering of separation of Church from state.
Alternatively, in reference to China’s repressive regime and obstruction of rights, Amnesty International has experienced failures. What we must understand is that it’s not so much the pressure group’s fault as it is the international community itself, as, despite gathering 38,000 members online to act and call on world leaders to act, no real change has taken place. However, we must not limit this idea of the developing world being regressive and the developed world being progressive. Poland, a member of the European Union (EU), despite the supranational organisation’s values of : ‘human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’, despite protests against the ‘Stop Abortion’ bill (2018), it still remains a state with control over women’s bodies (20). The lack of substantial action by the EU proves that it has little control to enforce these values and that despite the erosion of bodily autonomy, Poland still remains as a member, possibly due to the fear that more member states may disband from the organisation, especially after the Brexit tensions. We understand that the efforts of NGOs, although helpful in the promotion of such rights, is not a formula for guaranteed success, and we have seen how violations of rights are not always met with accountability, due to certain issues and circumstances in place which may trump them. The ‘Rule of Law’, the “political morality” of it, the principle that we are all equal beneath the law, as first cited by A.V. Dicey in his authoritative work “Introduction to the Law of Constitution” (1885), a fundamental pillar of the Liberal Democracy framework, does not seem to be universal and applicable to all globally (21).
Roe v. Wade
The United States of America exerts major influence and this is no less true for women’s reproductive rights–Roe v. Wade was a landmark case of the US moulding perspective regarding abortion, not just on a natioanl, but a global level (22). This helped legalise abortion, after Roe–Norma McCorvey, a woman from Texas– wanted to terminate her pregnancy, not on the grounds that her life was threatened, per the law in Texas in 1969. Eventually, in 1971, the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court and on January 22nd 1973, they struck down the Texan law. Justice harry Blackburn stated that a woman’s individual right to privacy (fourth Amendment of the US Constitution) overrides the state’s right to ban abortion. Thus, there were separate rules set for each trimester: in the first, the choice was fully in the hands of the mother, the second, government could not ban only regulate abortion and in the third, the government was given the power to prohibit abortion, unless the woman’s helath was at risk. However, we must take into consideration how the public were reacting; in 1972, opinion polls showed how 46% to 42% were against the legalisation. When we compare and contrast this to the following year’s results, 52%, a majority, favoured legalisation. This proves to us how people’s morality adapts and is shaped by the law–and how people can shape the law alternatively as well, as in 2018 it was found that 67% of Americans do not want the ruling overturned.
Following this, the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 was focused on restrictions deliberately set up to create barriers to abortions and had arisen from a challenging of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act 1982 (23). Eventually, the supreme Court ruled 5-4, stating that the restrictions at hand were unconstitutional if they placed an “undue burden” on the woman.
This final part of our paper leads back to our reasoning for carrying out this research in the first place. We had three main assessment objectives regarding women’s rights. Firstly, the impact the rise of globalisation has had on women’s rights. Secondly, whether it has helped or hindered the fight for them. Lastly, the role the international community has played and can play in putting pressure on nations globally to create a more free world which promotes and advocates rights for all women. Women’s rights clearly still have further to strive, and this can be recognised through the analysis of women’s political representation and reproductive rights. With the continual increase in women’s rights in our society today, it becomes clear that globalisation can definitely aid women’s rights through awareness, pressure groups and international economic integration. With these mechanisms, globalised to be able to take into account the international community—including repressive regimes—we are able to strive together, with a common goal to achieve international gender equality, be it in parliament or on the streets. Globalisation has bolstered women’s rights, but there still is much more to be done to achieve the gender equality we strive for. We can understand that morality and globalisation must be viewed together, if it is to truly bring about a desirable change.
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- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 
- Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833