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Are Women Globalization’s Big Winners?

Why are women more apt to adjust to the global economy than men?

August 6, 2004

Why are women more apt to adjust to the global economy than men?

Internationalization is giving way to globalization. The state is being challenged by the market. But, if we are to humanize globalization, we will require a new ethic.

Unlike the current one that continues to support economic development above all else, this new ethic will not solely be based upon individual interest.

And while I may have thought that this ethic would not emerge until far into the future, the great news is that it is here.

The change we are witnessing can best be described as a shift from an ethic of justice — cold and technocratic — to an ethic of care — warm and socially fair.

In my view, there are three distinct groups in society today that are primed to make a contribution to the reshaping and reinventing of our lives.

The first — and most important group — is women. In the last 30 to 40 years, women have made the transition from playing traditional roles to strongly integrating into the labor market.

While women have adapted to the new world, men tend to still be focused on changing the world — and fighting yesterday’s battles.

It is no accident that many new social movements are being led for the first time by women.

It is unlike the union movement and national liberation movements, which were — and still are — mostly headed by men.

I believe women will play a leading role in the emergence of this new world, which will serve to strengthen the ethic of care.

It is in contrast to the role of men, who over the last centuries, have been more responsible for the emergence — and endurance — of the ethic of justice.

A second group, immigrants, will also have an advantage over other groups and may contribute greatly to the integration of this new society.

Because immigrants have learned how to reinvent themselves — what with forced assimilation into different cultures — it will be easier for them to adapt to a different society.

Having had to reinvent themselves once in whatever country they emigrated to, immigrants are learning miles ahead of other people who haven’t been forced into changing.

A third group, the young, also possess an advantage.

Since they were born into the culture of computers and the Internet, they are in essence children of globalization, able to adapt and change with the seasons.

These three groups are important because globalization poses a formidable challenge to the state.

It provokes understandably an identity crisis among individual citizens all over the world, which is not only political and cultural — but also economic.

In moving from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism, we have too often moved from the phenomenon of exploitation to the much more critical and disturbing phenomenon — of exclusion.

In years past, those workers who were exploited still had a place on the social ladder, as the expression goes.

The exploited could organize, strike and make demands, because their labor was generally still needed.

But, with globalization, the situation is far different. The spin-off phenomenon — exclusion — is named so because some workers — and some countries — are now excluded from this process.

Since wealth can be generated without them, they are excluded from reaping the benefits of globalization.

And without a social relationship to fall back on, those in this situation are at a loss to know how to cope. They become increasingly isolated from mainstream society.

They feel unproductive, unwanted, ostracized and ignored. We cannot — we must not — allow this to become the legacy of the era of globalization.

Exclusion could be the most pressing public policy challenge that governments around the world are facing today.

What the state did in the past for the economy — and hence, for the people — in creating national markets, the political authority must now do again.

It must act as the vigilant and diligent guardian of the human goals of economic activity.

We must start thinking about a new ethic — a new law. We simply do not have a choice.

I believe those three groups outlined above — women, immigrants and the young — will be critical in solving the problems ahead.

There is a major irony in this, of course. The proper handling of globalization pressures rests on the shoulders of three groups which, so far, have never been considered powerful.

That is about to change.

This Globalist Document is adapted from a speech Mr. Pettigrew gave at the Global Forum 2000 on May 15, 2000. For the full text of the address, click here.