Gendering globalization by Cecilia Milwertz, Birte Siim and Zhao Jie

4. May 2009

The current global financial situation bluntly and brutally brings home the fact that the global and local are closely connected in times of opportunity as well as crisis. The articles in this issue of Asia Insights are about intra-action between Asia, particularly China, and the Nordic countries. Intra-action is the word feminist theorist Karen Barad uses about phenomena that mutually integrate to affect each other, as opposed to interaction between separate entities. The articles emphasize that we can no longer only study Asia as a far-away entity. On the contrary, Asia and the Nordic countries are mutually present within each other in the form of flows of people, capital, production, products and ideas.

The articles are mainly drawn from the conference ‘Gender at the Interface of the Global and the Local – Perspectives from China and the Nordic Countries’. The conference was hosted by the Gender and Participation Research Centre and Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences and was held in November 2008 in China. It was the third conference in a series of Sino-Nordic Women and Gender Studies Conferences arranged with the support of NIAS and the Nordic Centre at Fudan University, Shanghai. An illustrated report of the conference is available in English and Chinese. The fourth conference will be held at Aalborg University, Denmark in 2011.

The construction of globalization is gendered and globalization affects both men and women. It is important to stress that gender studies are concerned with men and women, masculinities and femininities, and as many papers at the conference stressed, with the intersections of gender with multiple differences such as class, ethinicity and region. Nevertheless, papers at the conference and the articles in this issue of Asia Insights focus primarily on women. One reason is that studies of the feminization of poverty indicate that in many countries women are disproportionally negatively affected by globalization processes. Furthermore, many scholars fear that there is a danger that globalization and increased migration may have serious detrimental impacts on the gender equality that has been achieved around the world.

 In the introductory article Birte Siim addresses the ‘local-global’ dialectic focusing on contradictory aspects of globalization for women as well as for gender equality. She identifies key debates and competing approaches to understanding the gendered implications of migration, which is a prominent aspect of globalization processes. Two articles address migration issues in China and Norway. Pun Ngai discusses what she calls the ‘dormitory labour system’. The system is a gendered form of labour based on domestic rural to urban migration and underlies the booming years of China’s export-oriented industrial production. An-Magritt Jensen looks at the Norwegian island of Svalbard, which is a strange exception to the increased securitarization of European borders and is open to migration from Asia. Three articles are concerned with flows of knowledge, trade and capital into Asia. Shen Haimei writes about the flow of international development aid to China and the problems encountered by projects in Yunnan province. Lilja Hjartardottir analyses how Sino-Icelandic trade relations reflect and perpetuate gendered hierarchies of power, resources and labour in the two countries. Merete Lie and Ragnhild Lund have since the 1980s followed the transfer of Norwegian companies to Singapore and Malaysia, and more recently to China. Their article focuses on the meeting between a Norwegian company and Chinese employees. Finally, Nira Yuval-Davis elaborates on the paradoxical effects of globalization on gender relations, in the sense that women bear the brunt of the global political and economic crises. On this basis she claims that it is a crucial time for solidarity based on transversal politics and dialogues between different groups of women and men about political visions.

Asia is definitely no longer only something to be studied within the confines of the political or imagined demarcations. Asia is global and has spilled over various borders. Not only should future understandings of gendered globalization increase the focus on men and masculinities to achieve a fuller picture of how globalization is gendered, but research should also explore how these processes affect Asian women who have migrated to the Nordic welfare states as workers or through family unification. One important question is whether the strong emphasis on gender equality could create potentials for Asian women’s struggle for equal social, political and civil rights? The articles in this special issue demonstrate that Asian studies can benefit from increased collaboration with gender studies in the localities that Asia has migrated to and intra-acts with.


Cecilia Milwertz is senior researcher at NIAS.

Birte Siim is professor in gender studies, the Department of History, International and Social Relations (IHIS), Aalborg University, Denmark

Zhao Jie is professor and director of the Gender and Participation Research Centre, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, China st1:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }