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INST 205- Review Sheet- Section Ten: Global Politics and the State
Learning Objectives
To realize that governments, international relations, and the globalization of economies
and cultures wield enormous influence over women’s lives and over the construction of
To understand how the state has been used to maintain and in some cases alter gender
norms and hierarchies.
To be aware of the demands women have made of governments.
To understand how the current processes of globalization have shaped women’s lives and
their interactions with politics, economics, and their own bodies.
To be conscious of how state politics concerning gender and women interact with issues
of race and class.
Section Summary
The state has been a key instrument in maintaining sexist gender norms and hierarchies as well
as in changing gender relations and other aspects of women’s lives. Today, women’s lives are
also shaped by global economic, political, and cultural forces.
 Governments play a central role in maintaining a social structure that perpetuates
inequalities of gender, race/ethnicity, and class.
 The lives of women around the world vary, in part, because of their countries’ policies
and ideologies regarding women and their countries’ positions in the global hierarchy of
 State and global forces affect gender as it is linked to race and class.
 Feminists focus on the ways that government policies and actions perpetuate gender
differences that oppress women.
 Women often organize to change the inequalities that the state maintains, and those that
are brought about by globalization and the postcolonial situation.
 Not all women have the same interests, and women’s desires may vary according to
nationality, ethnicity, immigrant status, economic status, etc.
Reading 42: Cynthia Enloe, “The Globe Trotting Sneaker”
Women perform most of the underpaid labor that goes into making global products like shoes,
and this generates enormous profits for transnational corporations. Enloe uses the example of a
Korean protest to demonstrate how women’s protests against state policies and human rights
abuses in factories can have complicated outcomes.
 Companies prefer to make their products where there are gender norms that encourage
women to be docile workers. They want to hire women who are unlikely to complain
about work conditions.
 Companies publicize their efforts on behalf of human rights and emphasize the fact that
they provide the women who make their products with a better income than would
otherwise be available to them. However, these companies rarely take responsibility for
the human rights abuses that exist in their factories.
When women organize to challenge gender norms, states and corporations fear that
change will make women less willing to accept the conditions in the global factories.
Many factories try to control what women say about their work conditions.
Women workers who have mobilized against inhumane conditions have faced further
The success of women workers’ activism often leads to the loss of their jobs, since the
factories can simply move to another country to exploit another group of women.
These practices pit women workers of one country against women of other countries.
Women across the globe must work together to effect change in the global corporate
Reading 44: Sharon Ann Navarro, “Las Mujeres Invisibles/The Invisible Women”
Navarro investigates a grassroots organization of Mexican American women, La Mujer Obrera
(LMO), and demonstrates the gendered effects of globalization via NAFTA. LMO operates in
the border city El Paso, Texas, and often uses Mexican culture as a mobilizing tool.
 NAFTA has not brought prosperity for most workers. Rather, corporate capital has
become more mobile, making it easier for corporations to be unaccountable to
governments or the workers who are most affected by its decisions.
 The First World and the Third World meet along the Mexico-U.S. border. The border
itself is open for commerce but often barricaded for people and migration. The border is
at times emphasized and at other times de-emphasized by LMO.
 Women, particularly women of color, are disproportionately affected by the processes of
neo-liberalism. Since the signing of NAFTA (the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement)
many of the mostly female garment workers who had provided cheap labor for the
industry have lost their income, benefits, etc. Eighty percent of El Paso’s garment
industry workers were Mexican-American women.
 LMO sees NAFTA as the primary cause of the current struggle Mexican American
women in El Paso must face to improve their lives and that of their families. When other
unions ignored the specific interests of these workers, LMO was formed to “make the
conditions of NAFTA-displaced women workers visible locally, regionally, and
 LMO integrates issues of workers’ rights and women’s issues and rights in order to
achieve siete necesidades basicas (seven basic goals): decent and stable employment,
housing, education, nutrition, healthcare, peace, and political liberty. However, traditional
restraints on these workers as women have often made organizing difficult.
 LMO has succeeded in receiving grants for retraining garment workers and federal funds
for economic development in El Paso. After much frustration with current retraining
programs, LMO opened its own retraining school, and it is developing a bilingual adult
education program for these workers.
 LMO regularly uses symbols of Mexican culture and religion, like La Virgen de
Guadalupe, maize (corn) and corrido (ballads) to inspire and mobilize their community.
 The study of LMO provides two important lessons: any one specific identity (such as
Mexican) may not be enough to build an alliance across borders, and the context of
workers’ situation is important.
Boxed Insert: Pheona Donohoe, “Femicide in Juárez”
Over 350 women have been murdered in the free trade zone in the Juárez, Mexico area, and
these murders continue today. Many of the women were kidnapped, raped and tortured, and little
is known about what has happened to these maquiladora workers.
 America’s dominance is partly to blame for the chaos in Juárez that has contributed to
these women’s deaths. Following NAFTA, Juárez became the largest industrial zone in
Mexico. These factories produce goods mostly for consumption in the U.S., and the
majority of the workers are women. Most of the women who have disappeared worked in
these factories.
 The investigation has made little progress, and local authorities have engaged in
numerous disturbing practices and may be involved in the murders themselves. A federal
investigation by Mexican authorities harshly criticized the local authorities, but it only
looked at 50 of the murders.
 Many media outlets have also exploited the murdered women and their families often
sensationalizing and glorifying the murders. Few of these portrayals look at the real
problems of these murders. However one respectful documentary Senorita Extraviada
(Missing Young Woman) is raising international awareness about the murders.
Reading 45: Lila Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological
Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others”
Abu-Lughod critiques the idea that Muslim women need to be saved which was employed by the
U.S. government to rally support for the war against Afghanistan in 2001. While Abu-Lughod
critiques cultural relativism for its inability to truly address injustice, she also critiques the
current focus on the burqa and other Muslim veils for its ethnocentrism. Rather, cultural
differences should be understood without reifying those differences.
 The focus on Muslim culture, particularly on Muslim women and veiling, hid the
complicated history behind the war in Afghanistan, and the role of history, economics,
and politics in creating the various Afghan wars. Women’s treatment under the Taliban
was lumped together with the many issues facing Afghan women.
 Throughout history various states have used ideas about women to justify colonial or
post-colonial endeavors rather than to actually advance gender equality. Christian
missionaries were also interested in ways to “save” their Muslim sisters.
 Westerners focused on the veil as the ultimate sign of the oppression of Afghan women
under the Taliban. However, after their “liberation” by the United States and allied forces
Afghan women continue to wear their burqas.
 The burqa and other veils have specific meanings for the women who wear them. For
many women it demonstrates belonging to a particular community and is a chosen
display of modesty or morality. Other cultures have different ideas of culturally
appropriate clothing, and some wear other head coverings for similar reasons. In some
communities the burqa was associated with a revered status for women.
 The burqa does not mean that women do not have freedom or agency. In fact many
women voluntarily choose to wear various forms of head coverings.
 The obsessive focus on veiling represents an ethnocentric view of the world that reduces
diverse situations and attitudes of Muslims to a single item of clothing. The oppression of
Muslim women by Muslim men made many Westerners feel superior, and its motivations
are not truly about correcting the variety of injustices Muslim women face.
We must be careful not to suggest that feminism is Western, and thus ignore the foci of
Third-World and Muslim feminisms for whom religion may play an important role.
Abu-Lughod critiques the passivity of cultural relativism that implies that one cannot
judge or interfere. Rather we should work hard to recognize and respect differences- as
products of historical circumstances- including differing ideas about justice and women’s
desires. In doing so, we in privileged positions should examine our own responsibilities
for the situation of others around the world. Additionally, Western women should focus
on cooperating with Muslim women who seek to alter a variety of conditions in the
Boxed Insert: Norimitsu Onishi, “Globalization of Beauty Makes Slimness Trendy”
Traditionally, Nigerian women were considered to be beautiful when they were large and
voluptuous. Modern influences from the Western media and the beauty industry have altered
younger Nigerians’ concept of beauty. Nigerians’ concept of beauty now more closely
resembles Western beauty standards.
 The Nigerian entrants into the Miss World competition never did well until their pageant
picked a woman who was not considered beautiful by Nigerian standards but who was
thin and looked more Western.
 Young, cosmopolitan Nigerians now believe that thin is beautiful; their opinions have
been influenced by exposure to Western television as well as by the results of the Miss
World competition.
Discussion Questions
Reading 42: Cynthia Enloe, “The Globe Trotting Sneaker”
1. How are women treated by global corporations? Describe hiring practices, the gender
division of labor, gendered human rights abuses, and policies.
2. How can women achieve more just working conditions?
3. Ask students to look at the labels on the clothing they are wearing. Where did their
clothes come from? How does our standard of living in America depend on the work of
workers like the women discussed by Enloe?
Reading 44: Sharon Ann Navarro, “Las Mujeres Invisibles/The Invisible Women”
4. What role has NAFTA played in the plight of Mexican-American workers in El Paso?
What do you think should be done to help these workers?
5. Why does Navarro stress that it is important to contextualize workers’ situations? What is
the context in which the grassroots organization La Mujer Obrera has organized? What
other contexts are important for understanding the situations of workers’ experiences?
6. What symbols does La Mujer Obrera use? Why do you think these displays of Mexican
culture are important?
7. Navarro suggests that it is important to understand borders in order to understand this
situation. In what ways has La Mujer Obrera reinforced the border? In what ways does
the organization downplay the border? What do you think should happen in order for
workers across the borders to work together to better their conditions?
Boxed Insert: Pheona Donohoe, “Femicide in Juárez”
8. What is happening in Juárez according to Donohoe? Why does Donohoe call these
murders femicide? How might these murders relate to genocide or other atrocities? What
is it that makes women particularly vulnerable?
9. Donohoe suggests that America’s economic dominance is partially to blame for these
murders. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Reading 45: Lila Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological
Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others”
10. Why does Abu-Lughod critique the notion of “saving” Muslim women? Why has there
been so much focus recently on the “oppression” of Muslim women?
11. What are some of the various meanings the veil can have for Arab or Muslim women?
According to Abu-Lughod, how do Western women tend to view the veil? What is wrong
with this Western view?
12. How does Abu-Lughod suggest we handle cultural differences? Should we take a
culturally relativist approach to other cultures? How do you think we should approach
differences and real oppression?
Boxed Insert: Norimitsu Onishi, “Globalization of Beauty Makes Slimness Trendy”
13. How did the Nigerian winner of the Miss World Pageant compare to traditional Nigerian
standards of beauty?
14. How have Nigerian standards of beauty changed and why?
Web Links
Amnesty International
Amnesty International has long been an advocate for human rights in a global context. Their
Women’s Human Rights project website hosts pages from women’s organizations around the
world. Amnesty International is involved in a variety of the topics covered in Section Ten
including the murders in Juárez.
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
AWID is a global organization that focuses on gender equality, sustainable development and
women’s human rights. Their website provides a variety of publications on issues facing women
internationally. AWID also provides a space for people to get involved in these issues.
Center for American Women in Politics
The Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University provides research and
education to encourage greater understanding about women’s participation in politics and
government. The Center also seeks to “enhance women’s influence and leadership in public
“Development Gap”
The concept of a “development gap” signals the wide economic breach between industrialized
countries and non-industrializing or recently industrializing countries. In order to understand the
situations of women in industrializing countries, we need to understand the causes of the
development gap. This website, hosted by an organization called Development Gap, helps to
spell out some of the structural circumstances that shape the lives of women (and men) in
industrializing nations.
Help End the Juárez Murders
The director of the respectful documentary on the Juárez murders, Lourdes Portillo, offers
information on how people can become involved in the movement to end these murders and see
those responsible brought to justice.
International Lesbian and Gay Association
The LGBT movement has organized globally for over 25 years. One organization linking
national-level movements for queer rights is the International Lesbian and Gay Association
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
As Lila Abu-Lughod describes, one justification for the U.S. war in Afghanistan was the
treatment of women by the previously U.S.-supported, fundamentalist Taliban government. Was
the American war on Afghanistan a feminist project? On this site women of Revolutionary
Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) discuss the war and other topics.
The United Nations
The United Nations monitors women’s human rights around the world and provides support to
women’s development projects. The United National Development Fund for Women
(“UNIFEM”) and “WomenWatch,” a gateway to information and resources that promote gender
equality, have websites that enable the public to keep track of current UN projects and issues
related to women.
UNIFEM is the Women’s Fund at the United Nations
WomenWatch is an inter-agency website of the United Nations
United Nations INSTRAW
The mission of The United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the
Advancement of Women is to “promote gender equality and women’s advancement worldwide
through research, training and the collection and dissemination of information.” At present,
INSTRAW projects include work in the following interesting areas: gender aspects of
environmental management and sustainable development; gender aspects of aging; gender and
ICT; men’s roles and responsibilities in women’s reproductive health; and gender aspects of
conflict and peace.
U.S. Feminism and the Situation of Afghan Women
This website explores one American Feminist organization’s focus on Afghan women. Compare
this information to that provided by RAWA and Lila Abu-Lughod in Reading 45.