All entries for January 2017

January 28, 2017

In the Race to Industrialize, Do Women Come in Last?


By Madiha A. Shekhani

'. . . within occupationally segregated "ghettos" the demand for cheap labor and the demand for female labor became synonymous.' (Pearce, 1978, p.28)

Industrialization, the mantra of the post-war era, was injected into the global lexicon as the savior of the South. Cloaked under a stellar package of all rounded benefits, the second half of the 20th century witnessed a race to industrialize. Within this framework the strategy of export-led industrialization (ELI) has been hailed for bringing rapid and unparalleled surges of economic growth and development; however, its appeal begins to dwindle once it is deconstructed through the lens of gender.

Several strands of thought have emerged within the gender and development repertoire. The link between ELI and gender is quite complex, and scholars have worked ambitiously to disentangle this web and highlight the complex stratifications within this debate (see Elson 1999; Elson & Pearson 1981; Seguino 1997; Standing 1989). Feminist schools of thought have contributed to arguments which suggest that the policies of ELI and its foundational structures not only create new avenues for gender inequalities to flourish, but also reinforce and solidify existing ones. In particular, the integration of women in this model through underpaid, undervalued, and insecure modes of employment has had intense repercussions, and is one of the leading causes of inequalities within ELI regimes.

The unfair incorporation of women within ELI rests upon the structure of the framework: one of the priorities of the export-led growth policy package is to minimize production costs. In pursuit of this priority, the global industry aimed to shift labour to a more flexible and cheap realm, which was subsequently discovered in the Global South (Standing 1989). The comparative advantage or rather the commodity, which the developing world thus became famous for, was cheap labour (Kaur 2003, p.40). Cheap labour gradually became synonymous with female labour. The rising presence of women in inexpensive, labour intensive and insecure employment roles has been identified as one of the main characteristics of the ELI approach (Seguino 2000; Elson and Pearson 2011): ‘No country has successfully industrialized or pursued this development strategy without relying on a huge expansion of female labor’ (Standing 1989, p.1080).

The approach presents itself as gender neutral since levels of productivity are key criterions in the market, as opposed to gender. However, this narrative ignores the intricacies and dynamics of the market, and the much disregarded household, both of which are deeply ‘gendered institutions’. Therefore, mere ‘participation does not empower women’ (Elson 1999, p. 611). The increasing presence of women in the work force under ELI regimes has been largely noticed across literature, and has been misconstrued by many as an indicator of the gender positive nature of ELI (Berik 2000; Elson and Pearson 1981; Razavi and Pearson 2003). Many have failed to look beneath this contagious narrative and examine the multiple realities underneath hollow statistics.

The increase in female workers is a result of deeply rooted institutional and structural inequalities which ELI capitalizes on and entrenches. The heightened demand is a product of structures which conceive the labour of women as inferior. Even though the numbers of female employment have increased largely with the advent of ELI, their position within the labour market has not improved, as promised. They remain more vulnerable to external shocks to the economy and unemployment than men (Otobe 2016). A work force of women synonymous to cheap labor exists precisely because the labour market is discriminatory and only makes space for women in roles that conform to traditional norms of value of female labour. Demand for women in ELI inspired markets is mostly in labour intensive, low skilled manufacturing jobs because gender constructs dictate that those are the only jobs that ‘nimble’ and ‘docile’ women are capable of (Razavi and Pearson 2003, p.2; Elson and Pearson 1981). The ELI model restricts the availability of opportunities for women: in order to maintain a stream of hassle free, disposable employees, the upward movement of women in to better jobs is confined (Pearce 1978). Since ELI benefits from the subsequent unfair ‘segregation of the work force’ and ‘feminization of labour’, it further perpetuates and reinforces the norms that underlie those processes.

The gender neutrality narrative of ELI doesn’t hold true in practice for it does not address the conditions that seem to have grown substantially with its presence, including the gender wage gap, deteriorating work conditions, insecurity of female employment status and an unequal distribution of benefits, both economic and social (Elson 1999; Seguino 2000; Park 1995). Each of these issues is linked to the gendered imbalance within the market and the household, leading to the lack of control women have upon their choices, resources, incomes, time, and effort. Additionally, what the ELI approach fails to address is that structural and especially societal norms do not provide all women with equal access to the market. Usually, the women working as cheap labour belong to certain marginalized classes, or ethnicities. The repeated exploitation of these women across such cleavages not only perpetuates inequality across genders but also within.

It has been established that the gender wage gap, either organically present or artificially induced has stimulated growth within the export-led systems (Seguino 2000). This can be construed as one of the leading motivations behind systematic efforts by governments to put in place discriminatory hiring rules and to reinforce stereotypes (Berik 2000). With a lack of labour market regulations, which are seen as extra ‘costs and rigidities’, women suffer under awful working conditions and must endure longer work hours in the formal and informal, reproductive economy (Standing 1989, p.1078; Elson 1999). Due to restricted choices women are often confined within jobs that entail hazardous working conditions (Majumder and Begum 2000). Harrowing accounts of factories in Bangladesh describe ‘overcrowded, congested and poorly ventilated’ buildings, where fire accidents have resulted in loss of lives of which 90% have been female (Majumder & Begum 2000, p.15). Such glaring examples depict the inequalities that the ELI system supports whereby one gender is more valued for their nimble fingers than their lives.

One of the most precarious effects of such discriminatory narratives is internalization. After facing sustained periods of marginalization young women have been conditioned to lower their aspirations, and are prepared to work in jobs that deliberately devalue them as mere diligent and disposable commodities (Standing 1989). ELI mechanisms make ‘allies out of the deprived’ and solidify inequality within material and ideational realms (Sen 1987, p.3). Due to internalization there is a lack of protest. Women are preoccupied with attempting to balance the plethora of setbacks they face. Their silence is often construed as satisfaction, and branded as a success for the gender-conscious ELI model. To ensure that these inequalities do not set permanently and lead to consequences such as intensification of existing gendered poverty, one must not misconstrue the absence of overt discontent as ‘evidence of the absence of that inequality’ (Sen 1987, p.3).

The ELI approach rests upon a structure that is inherently disadvantageous to women and their labour efforts. By capitalizing upon this aspect, the model encourages and contributes to the permanence of the underpayment of women’s services in the market, alongside a complete disregard for their services in the unpaid, reproductive economy. Cowering behind the rouse of gender neutrality, ELI approaches must be overtly called out for their inherent male biases (Elson 1991). Unless there is recognition of the existing unequal power dynamic between the genders, these structures cannot be undone.

The policies and ideas emanating from ELI regimes and the resulting inequalities have become a concrete part of our global reality. Eradicating the roots of such inequalities is the ultimate goal; however, it is a long-term process that can be predicted to take a substantial amount of time. Thereby, a potential solution to the conundrum of cyclical gender inequality stimulated by ELI is two-fold. Firstly, what is required is a gendered (not just female) collective, working towards combatting the internalization of the imbalanced gender power equation, and a sustained effort to roll back inequality. This must be accompanied by a practical prescription of restructuring, if not replacing ELI, keeping in mind the gendered critiques of the model.

Exploitation of women is not unique to ELI. It is a bi-product of theories and policy prescriptions that view gender as a one-dimensional phenomenon to be dealt with on the side-lines. Gender inequalities stem from exclusion of gender as a complex entity from the initial processes of formulation of ideas, as in the case of the ELI model. Gender and individual experiences of inequality are extremely variegated. Gender’s intersection with a wide range of factors justifies the need to give it a central position within theory and practice across disciplines. In order to develop, our focus must shift from economic growth as an end, to perceiving equitable human, social, political and economic development as the goal. If we are not cognizant of the structures, biases, inequalities that thrive amidst us, women will continue to place last in the race to industrialize.


Berik, G. (2000). Mature Export-Led Growth and Gender Wage Inequality in Taiwan. Feminist Economics, 6(3), pp.1-26.

Elson, D. and Pearson, R. (1981). 'Nimble Fingers Make Cheap Workers': An Analysis of Women's Employment in Third World Export Manufacturing. Feminist Review, (7), p.87.

Elson, D. (1991). Male bias in the development process. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp.1-28.

Elson, D. (1999). Labor Markets as Gendered Institutions: Equality, Efficiency and Empowerment Issues. World Development, 27(3), pp.611-627.

Elson, D. and Pearson, R. (2011) ‘The subordination of women and the internationalization of factory production’ in N. Visvanathan, L. Duggan, N. Wiegersma and L. Nisonoff, (eds). The Women, Gender and Development Reader. London: Zed Books.

Kaur, A. (2003). Economic Globalisation,Trade Liberalisationand Labour-IntensiveExport Manufactures:An Asian Perspective. In: A. Kaur, ed., WOMEN WORKERS IN INDUSTRIALISING ASIA Costed, Not Valued, 1st ed. pp.37-59

Otobe, N (2016). Export-led development, employment and gender in the era of globalization. International Labour Organization, Employment Policy Department Working paper No. 197. Available at

Park, K. (1995). Women Workers in South Korea: The Impact of Export-Led Industrialization. Asian Survey, 35(8), pp.740-756.

Paul-Majumder, Pratima and Begum, Anwara. 2000. The gender imbalances in the export-oriented garment industry in Bangladesh. Policy research report on gender and development working paper series ; no. 12. Washington, D.C. : The World Bank.

Pearce, D. (1978). The Feminization of Poverty: Women, Work, and Welfare. The Urban & Social Change Review. pp.28-37.

Razavi S. and Pearson R. (2003). Introduction. Edited by Shahra Razavi, Ruth Pearson and Caroline Danloy . (May 2004). Globalization, Export Orientated Employment and Social Policy. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sen, A. (1987) Gender and Co-operative Conflicts. Available at:

Seguino, S. (1997) ‘Export-led growth and persistence of gender inequality in newly industrialized countries’. In Economic Dimensions of Gender Inequality: A Global Perspective ed. by Janet M. Rives, Mahmood Yousefi. United States: Prager Publishers

Seguino, S. (2000). Accounting for Gender in Asian Economic Growth. Feminist Economics, 6(3), pp.27-58.

Standing, G. (1989). Global feminization through flexible labor. World Development, 17(7), pp.1077-1095.

January 19, 2017

In defence of social policy: Rethinking the trade–off between equity and efficiency in Kibera

By Daisy Sibun, University of Warwick

The prevailing logic of mainstream development theory tells us that economic policy is the primary driver behind any nation’s development. Such logic suggests that one can simply look at tweaking the macro-economic policies of a developing nation and herein lies the path to broader developmental progress. But this dominant conceptualisation overlooks the capacity of social policy, defined by Thandika Mkandawire as “collective interventions affecting transformation in social welfare, social institutions and societal relations”, to drive a more comprehensive and sustainable form of socio-economic development when designed to work on a more equitable basis in conjunction with economic policy (Mkandawire, 2001). More than just a way to remedy the fall-out of economic policies, social policy can be instrumental in generating growth and ensuring a level of productivity that is both socially sustainable and mutually-reinforcing in promoting desirable socio-economic outcomes.

It has been broadly accepted that the goal of development policy is more multi-faceted than simply achieving economic growth as an end in itself. The “trickle-down” views that permeated development thinking in the 1970s lost ascendency when it was widely realised that, without some deliberate policies to shape effects of economic growth and mitigate potential policy failures, there was no guarantee that this growth would trickle down and confront poverty. The incorporation into mainstream development theory of Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen’s Human Development Index in the 1990s, for example, demonstrates the increasing consideration of more people-centred policies as a means to achieving a more comprehensive experience of development (UNDP, 1999).

Fundamentally, however, the role of social policy has remained limited and reactionary in its conception as a provider of “safety-nets”, used merely as an afterthought to mitigate the potential social costs and failures of economic policy. This subservient role of social policy continues to be institutionalised in the conditionalities of the IMF and World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and their prescriptive primary focus on liberalising macro-economic policies. Neoliberal economics has presented social policy as a distortion to the labour market and a source of economic instability. This equity vs efficiency trade-off has remained dominant.

But treating social policy as subservient to the role of economic policy may overlook its capacity to play a more fundamental role in driving economic development. Development economist Thandika Mkandawire has pointed to the ways in which the more prominent integration of social policy into economic agendas can lead to promising socio-economic outcomes. Mkandawire opens up to discussion the idea that, far from being a source of economic instability, social policy, when designed complementarily in conjunction with economic policy, can generate growth that is both equitable and socially sustainable.

The economic potential of social policy becomes particularly evident when considering the case of Kibera, an informal settlement or ‘slum’ on the outskirts of Nairobi, which is home to what some sources have estimated to be over one million people (Mutisya and Yarime, 2011). Residents of Kibera have demonstrated entrepreneurial tenacity in creatively addressing the needs of their communities and targeted social policy could be used to support the development of Kibera’s promising informal economy and aid its capacity to generate economic growth for those who need it most.

Entrepreneurship and the creation of small businesses are increasingly providing an attractive alternative for young people in Kibera who face an economy with high youth unemployment rates and limited prospects for progression and social mobility. Many residents of Kibera effectively meet the demands of those in the community by providing paid services that have proved popular and effective business strategies.

These small-scale business activities are popularly referred to as Jua Kali and demonstrate the creative pragmatism of those living in the communities of Kibera. This ranges from creating solutions to existing social problems, such as providing a paid Masai security escort service for residents or visitors concerned for their safety when travelling the settlement at night, to developing small businesses that offer leisure services such as cinemas, music-sharing and rented gaming facilities. One such young business owner is Vitalis Odhiambo who, alongside running a clothing shop, has created a small, but popular, PlayStation-rental facility at which residents of Kibera can pay ten shillings for ten minutes of play (Higgins, 2013).

Such displays of initiative and innovation, coupled with access to a market of over one million potential customers, demonstrate that Kibera is a thriving economic machine with the potential to contribute substantially to the growth of Nairobi’s economy. A crucial roadblock to the further development and expansion of such small business models, however, is the inability of many of Kibera’s residents to access investment capital. Small business owners in Kibera often struggle to gain loans from banks because they lack collateral, are pushed out by high interest rates or because their insecure land tenures mean that they cannot provide a formal address (The Economist, 2012).

These are limitations that could be more pertinently addressed by integrating targeted social policy, such as housing policy that addresses the problem of tenure insecurity, into Kenyan economic policy. Whilst the government-led Kenya Slum Upgrading Project (KENSUP) has built alternative houses on the outskirts of Kibera, many residents have identified that relocating to new housing outside of their existing economic and community structures does not provide the best solution and have rejected the scheme (Tairo, 2013). A focus on transferring legal ownership of Kibera’s land from the government to the residents, some of whom have lived in Kibera since it was founded by the Nubian community in 1904, holds perhaps the most promising solution to overcoming social impediments to small-business expansion.

Education policy offers another way in which social policy can support the development of Kibera’s informal economy. Findings from Wise Sambo’s 2016 study of entrepreneurial development in Kibera revealed a strong positive correlation between the provision of youth entrepreneurship education and the development of youth entrepreneurship (Wise, 2016). More broadly, improving the welfare of citizens through healthcare policies may see economic benefits as life expectancy is a powerful predictor of economic growth (Mkandawire, 2001).

There is, of course, a danger that framing social policy in this way can instrumentalise it to the degree that is valued more as a means to growth than as an end that is intrinsically valuable in itself. Indeed, this is a concerning possibility that we should be mindful of in discussions about reconceptualising the role of social policy.

As long as we can continue to capture the absolute value that social policy provides in improving the human development of communities such as Kibera, a greater emphasis on designing social and economic policy as a more integrated process could have substantial benefits for socio-economic growth. Challenging the naturalisation of a neoliberal equity-efficiency trade-off can illuminate other ways of conceptualising the role of social policy in development issues that may provide more equitable and socially-sustainable development for communities such as those in Kibera.


Higgins, A. “Meet the innovators and entrepreneurs of Kenya’s Kibera slum”, One. [Online]. Accessed:

Mkandawire, T. Social Policy in a Development Context. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mutisya, E. and Yarime, M. (2011) “Understanding the Grassroots Dynamics of Slums in Nairobi: The Dilemma of Kibera Informal Settlements”, International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, Applied Sciences & Technologies, 2(2): 197-213.

Tairo, A. M. (2013). “Why Slum Upgrading in Kenya has Failed”, Buildesign. [Online]. Accessed at:

The Economist. “Boomtown Slum”, The Economist, December 23 2012. [Online]. Accessed at:

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (1999). Human Development Report 1999. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Wise, S. (2016). “Factors affecting youth entrepreneurship development in Kibera, Kenya”, Problems and Perspective in Management, 14(3-1): 154-161.

January 11, 2017

Selling the City


By Sean Rai-Roche, University of Edinburgh – MSc Environment and Development

Edinburgh: An ‘International Cultural Epicentre’

“On a tremendous scale, Edinburgh becomes an international cultural epicentre for all the performing arts offering intense, personal and exciting experiences to those who come from Edinburgh, from Scotland and from around the world.”


Since the 1980s, and the ascendency of neoliberal ideology, the idea that places should be competitive has become naturalised into contemporary understandings of cities. David Harvey (1989) describes this shift in what he calls the ‘managerial’ approach of the 1960s to the ‘entrepreneurial’ approach undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s. He asserts that the consensus amongst the capitalist economies that cities should adopt this entrepreneurial stance is ‘remarkable’ because it ‘seems to hold across national boundaries and even across political parties and ideologies’ (Harvey, 1989:4). Such a consensus is indicative of the hegemony of neoliberal ideology as the remaking of space – being a particularly powerful way to inscribe neoliberalism on to the city – becomes central to urban policy under new waves of capitalism. Brenner and Theodore (2002) assert that the remaking of space is a key component within neoliberal designs for the city as the ‘production of space’ becomes ever more important for capitalism’s ability to construct spaces after its own, idealised image and thus further processes of accumulation (Lefebvre, 1991). Because neoliberalism involves shifting scales of governance with increasing importance placed upon inter-regional and international competition, this idealised image of urban space took the form of competitive cities.

For Kearns and Philo the practice of place branding (or selling the city) involves the myriad of techniques employed by state and private actors to sell the image of a city in order to make it more attractive to both capital and tourism. The imaginaries of areas constructed through place branding differ significantly as do the subsequent implications for life in the ‘branded city’. In the Western world place branding has often been used to signify a transition to a post-industrial society (Barke and Harrop, 1994) through the construction of the city as a dynamic, mobile and modern centre for accumulation, accommodating the needs of restless capital. Sadler states, ‘in the UK in the 1980s the idea that places as well as people could be competitive became central to an increasingly powerful ideology’ (1993:190). Although place branding does not occur in all cities, the globalised nature of contemporary capitalism means that urban areas are increasingly being commodified in different ways and at different rates. This, however, is not a mere coincidental outcome of capitalism but a key means whereby it is able to reproduce itself through the creation of new investment opportunities within the city (Harvey, 2014).

Edinburgh, Scotland is branded to tourists through discursive representations that utilise its iconography as an ‘international cultural epicentre’, its related historicism and architectural assemblages. Kearns and Philo show how ‘central to the activities subsumed under the heading of selling places is often conscious and deliberate manipulation of culture in an effort to enhance the appeal and interest of places’ (1993:3). They argue that any manipulation of culture used to ‘sell’ a place is also a manipulation of that place’s history: ‘the past is appropriated in the present’ (1993:4). This cultural aspect of place promotion is most observable through the promotion of the Edinburgh Festival & Fringe. The Edinburgh Festival is the biggest arts festival in the world, attracting more than 1 million tourists over the space of a month. The allure for tourists comes from Edinburgh’s self-framing as a historic, ancient and cultured city. Jamieson (2004) draws on John Urry’s ‘tourist gaze’ (1990), which argues that tourism depends on the selective screening of images that are more appealing to tourists, to propose the idea of the ‘festival gaze’ that ‘choreographs different forms of identification and interaction with the city’ (Jamieson, 2004:73).

 From the moment you arrive in Edinburgh you are told what an amazing, ‘unique’ city you are in. Walking through Old Town’s historic streets, to the tours of the city’s many dungeons and castles, to the financial district of Scotland you are reminded of the cultural richness, historicism and importance of the city: ‘Edinburgh is mediated through the gaze as a site for and an object of cultural consumption for tourists and service sector investment.’ (Jamieson, 2004:73). The implications of the ‘festival gaze’ in Edinburgh are quite worrying. The structure, use and function of the city are transformed during the festival, as formerly abandoned and neglected spaces become foci for capital accumulation. Every city space is incorporated into the idealised, projected vision of Edinburgh as a ‘festival city’. The Old Town’s streets and alleyways are reclaimed from the city’s homeless population and are transformed into profitable spaces that sustain the ‘festival gaze’. During the festival many local people are effectively ‘priced-out’ of activities and forms of social participation within their own city, whilst tourists enjoy the pleasures of the festival and its subsequent reinforcement of dominant narratives concerning the city. I would argue that place promotion campaigns do little more than obfuscate the deeper inequalities and social injustices that exist within any city. They project an idealised, romanticised and commodified vision of the city that draws on one or many associated images that are more attractive to tourists and capital. Other negative implications of place branding include ‘regressive impacts on the distribution of income, volatility within the urban network and the ephemerality of the benefits which many projects bring’ (Harvey, 1989: 15). Moreover, Kearns and Philo explore how in numerous ways the process of place promotion ‘obliterates both deliberately and on occasion more accidentally the lives of the city’s “other peoples”’ (1993: 26). This is, for me, one of the biggest implications of place promotion: it completely overlooks (intentionally or not) the lives of the vast majority of the city’s residents in favour of an idealised image that is attractive for both capital and the global elite.


Barke, M., & Harrop, K. (1994). Selling the industrial town: identity, image and illusion. Place promotion: the use of publicity and marketing to sell towns and regions, 93-114.

Brenner, N and Theodore, N (2002) Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe. (Oxford: Blackwell)

Harvey, D. (1989) ‘From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism’, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 71 (1): 3-17

Harvey, D. (2014). Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism. Oxford University Press.

Jamieson, K (2004) ‘Edinburgh: the festival gaze and its boundaries’, Space and Culture 7 (1): 64-75

Kearns, G., & Philo, C. (1993). Culture, history, capital: A critical introduction to the selling of places. Selling places: The city as cultural capital, past and present, 1-32.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space(Vol. 142). Blackwell: Oxford.

Sadler, D (1993) ‘Place-marketing, competitive places and the construction of hegemony in Britain in the 1980s’ in G. Kearns & C. Philo (eds) Selling Places: The City as Cultural Capital, Past and Present, Pergamon Press, Oxford, pp. 175-192.

January 05, 2017

International Development Photography Competition

The Global Research Priorities (GRP) in International Development Annual Photography Competition is now open for submissions by any University of Warwick student or member of staff. This year's theme is ‘Challenging Inequalities, Transforming Gender Relations in the 21st Century’. The website of the competition suggests some questions for inspiration:

Why does gender matter in development? How does gender reproduce social inequalities that affect development? What can we do about the mis-recognition of gender relations that often leads to mal-distribution of resources to support the marginalized? What is needed to transform gender relations in the 21st Century?

The competition closes on 31 March 2017. More information can be found here:


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Anni Piiroinen
Sailja Jain
Maria Elena Olsen
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  • Thanks for the article. Very interesting insight to value chains and how they work today. Keen to se… by Juha Piiroinen on this entry
  • Really insightful perspective Sylvia. Aspects and traces of Orientalism and western superiority in f… by Madiha Shekhani on this entry
  • Hi Anni, thank you for the question, it's actually quite important to highlight what you've mentione… by Madiha Shekhani on this entry
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