Urvashi Aneja

Feminist visions of the future of work in Asia

Narratives and perspectives on the future of work in Asia through a feminist lens.

Work produces not just economic goods and services but also social and political relations and identities. In recent years, numerous books, articles, and conferences discuss the likely impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR for the ‘Future of Work’ (FoW). Some accounts, particularly those from technology companies, are essentially optimistic, celebrating the new productivity and efficiency gains that will accompany the adoption of new technologies and a possible post-work future.

Others, particularly governments and economists, are more cautious, pointing out a likely churn in the world of work, where the degree of technological unemployment will depend on how quickly people are able to reskill.

Still others, particularly civil society activists and social scientists, highlight the inequitable distribution of technology gains, noting the many old and new socio-economic inequities that are likely to be (re)produced. While these studies provide important and timely insights, most are focused on the experiences and trajectories of industrialised economies.

Few consider the likely impact across the global south; fewer still consider the differentiated impact across social groups. Technology trajectories and their impact on the world of work are unlikely to be homogenous, and will be shaped by local labour market realities, socio-cultural norms, and political and societal decision-making contexts.

Asia is one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world, home to five of the world’s largest economies - China, Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia. How the future world of work unfolds in Asia will be relevant across the world. So, to better understand what the future of work will look like for women in Asia, Urvashi Aneja, Founding Director of Tandem Research, an interdisciplinary research collective based in India, analyzed the narratives, trends and developments in this region.


Main findings

  • The Future of Work discourse in Asia sees an optimistic narrative emphasizing a chance in the platform economy and digitalisation for women and a counter narrative foreseeing reproduction of obstacles for women by not distinguishing the different impact it will have for women and men.
  • A core concern is the link between economic globalization, trade liberalization and gender inequality - economic growth in labour intensive industrial sectors is driven by the exploitation of cheap female labour. Feminisation of labour is mainly driven by an attempt to provide the cheapest possible production for international suppliers, often leaving women at the lowest levels of the global value chain.
  • Postmodern feminists see great potential for the new digital economy to pave the way for a world without gender categories by liberating women from tasks and occupations assigned to them due to prevailing gender stereotypes. Others fear that the new digital economy will exacerbate existing inequalities and contribute to the further degradation of women’s labour. If the benefits of digital economy encompass women, it is likely only a small selection of educated and elite women who will profit.

This publication is part of the"The Future is Feminist”, a global project of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, working worldwide with feminists to develop positive visions for a better future that focus on economic policy issues and critical economic perspectives. The project in particular analyses the effects of digitalization and the future of work.

Feminist visions of the future of work

Aneja, Urvashi

Feminist visions of the future of work

Berlin, 2019

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