Globalization seems inevitable, but it is desirable

Globalization - Social Policy

Sigrid Leitner

To person

Dr. phil, born 1970; Scientific assistant at the Institute for Social Policy at the University of Göttingen.

address: Institute for Social Policy, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 3, 37073 Göttingen.

Publication including: Women and men in the welfare state. On the structural implementation of gender concepts in social security systems, Vienna 1999.

Ilona Ostner

To person

Dr. phil., born 1947; Professor of Comparative Social Policy at the University of Göttingen; Director of the Institute for Social Policy.

address: see Sigrid Leitner.

Publication including: (Ed. Together with Stephan Lessenich) Worlds of welfare capitalism. The welfare state in a comparative perspective, Frankfurt / M.-New York 1998.

Neglected sides of the new division of labor

What is the connection between globalization and welfare state change? And what special role do women play in this?

I. Women and globalization - an encounter that is still to come

When "globalization" is mentioned, as has so often been the case in recent years, there is hardly any mention of women - or more generally: of gender relations [1]. This is surprising, given the breadth of the term, there is hardly a topic that cannot be dealt with under its roof. After all, even unspectacular issues like unpaid care for children and older family members have drawn public (including male) attention. The interest now extends to the consideration of temporarily granting minimum security entitlements to those who do this care work free of charge.


Such considerations have become more global: they have even reached Brazil. There, the government is planning to provide poor families and especially mothers with a minimum income to look after their children at home. The condition is that the respective child goes to school up to the age of fourteen [2]. One wants to kill many birds with this one stone: postpone exploitation through child labor; improve the qualifications of the next generation; reduce the level of crime resulting from the threat to existence; Combat the excesses of the shadow economy, since the minimum security entitlement, inter alia. goes hand in hand with the control of the fulfillment of the requirements; gradually increase competitiveness, etc.


The Brazilian example seems to contradict those who associate "globalization" with a gradual adjustment of the high social standards of the rich western countries to the level of the poor or with the further informalization (slide into the shadow economy) of gainful employment. Global competition is not a one-way street. Experience from European integration teaches that high-standard and low-standard countries move towards one another, but in opposite directions: they do not meet "below", at the lowest standard, but rather approach the middle [3 ].

"Globalization" concerns social standards. These regulate living conditions through law, money, social services and opportunities to participate, e.g. B. through the restriction of child labor and the - as history shows, not necessarily resulting - compensation for the loss of income if the children go back to school instead of earning money, or if women and men are enabled to withdraw from the labor market ) to look after their children or relatives in need of care, if the individual labor does not have to be offered for sale at any price. If such standards are lacking, they not only threaten the possibility of existence, but also the dignity of those affected, especially the weakest - the most socially vulnerable - in society.

"Socially vulnerable" are those who find themselves in a situation of exploitable dependency - of "eat or die" - from which they cannot escape on their own. It doesn't matter whether you got yourself into this situation. Social standards or more generally: the welfare states with their labor market and social (insurance) policies have so far ensured that people have the minimum of social security and thus independence that allows them to affirm or deny a situation [4]. Changes in the level of security and in the requirements for access to social security therefore directly affect the dignity of these vulnerable people.

Women and men experience "globalization" as soon as this phenomenon can affect social standards. These impairments definitely follow a gender-specific structural logic; however, not all women are among the losers and not all men are among the winners of the globalization process. It is therefore important first of all to emphasize the contradictions and polarizations between women. Instead of a lengthy clarification of the term globalization, the following sections concentrate on the relationship between globalization and welfare state change discussed in the literature. Few reactions from the welfare state are directly related to globalization. The structural change in the labor market also follows its own logic to a considerable extent. Globalization is seldom the independent, explanatory variable. It often acts as a catalyst for changes that are already pending - or that are considered desirable. It is all the more difficult to identify the points at which globalization and social standards also affect the opportunities for action and ultimately the dignity of women. This connection is most evident in the case of trafficking in women and girls and will be explained in more detail in conclusion.