Women and the future of work: New network selects areas for priority attention

The technological changes sweeping the world of work have particular implications for women. Specialists from across Asia have selected two areas to focus on as a matter of priority.

Experts have been debating the impact of technology on the future of work for several years now, with particular attention to workers in lower-skilled positions and developing economies. But the specific impacts on women also need more careful attention, according to a group of experts gathered in Bali in June.

This will mean looking closely at the connections between gender rights, the existing challenges in the labour market, and the specific new challenges from the transformations already under way, and sometimes referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.

“In addition to gender justice and economic justice we know that there is a new axis of digital justice,” said Nandini Chami, deputy director of Indian non-governmental organization IT for Change.  

“Everyone is talking about e-commerce as this magic bullet for women's empowerment […] but what is missing in this conversation is that it's not a level playing field. The terms of participation on digital markets are not conducive for women entrepreneurs.”

She was among a group of researchers and experts from nine Asian countries who assembled in Bali from 25 to 28 June to explore how to integrate women’s perspectives into the debate. The conference kicked off a new regional project by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) titled Women and the Future of Work in Asia.

The Bali conference analysed gender roles in the world of work and developed some progressive ideas for sustainable gender justice. To challenge the dominant patriarchal and neoliberal discourses, it used an intersectional approach and listened to some of the voices that are missing from mainstream debates.

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This approach will require “building alliances between the women's movements and the trade union movements”, Chami said. But in addition to that longstanding priority, she said, “we must also expand the horizons by looking at trade justice, climate justice issues and also most importantly digital and data rights issues.”

For example, women’s overrepresentation in informal agricultural employment means they bear the brunt of any abuses to the rights of workers in that sector, and of any worsening of those abuses. Climate change is a further compounding issue, making it all the more urgent to take steps to safeguard working women’s rights in the sector, Chami said. 

“We are looking at new models [that] are not exploitative and which work for women farmers and artisans and even women workers selling their services so that they get a fair share of the profit and they are not marginalized.” Such models must enable women “to control data and data flows in ways that do not compromise their bodies, their rights and their work,” she said.

Delegates also discussed the persistent challenge of unpaid care work, which is mostly carried out by women around the world. “It is time that care work is recognized as valuable for society, and that government protect care workers," said Herni Ramdlaningrum, programme manager of The Prakarsa, an Indonesian think-tank focussed on welfare.

The countries represented were Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand. The event was also attended by representatives of international workers’ associations and trade unions, including the International Domestic Workers Federation and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations.

The conference was an opportunity to build international solidarity. “We were trying to find common ground that we could work on together as a regional group going forward,” said Farzana Nawaz, a capacity development consultant working with workers’ rights groups in Bangladesh.

“Reinventing the indivisible integrated human rights agenda in digital times - that's part of the women's human rights agenda,” said Chami.

After three days of discussions the delegates, divided into two groups, identified two priority areas for projects going forwards: an online tool for dialogue on women and the future of work in Asia; and a campaign to win dignity and recognition for care workers.

Later this year working group meetings will be held to feed back on progress. The first will be in Mongolia, on the economy of care. The second, in Singapore, on the impact of technology on working women. Next year will see a regional conference on each topic, one focused on care economy and the other on digitalization.


For more details on the regional work by FES in Asia <link about contact external-link>contact the Singapore-based FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia. 

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