As the world becomes more and more integrated through new technologies that enable us to do more, in less time, in more parts of the world, one trend is clearly evident: Women are increasingly becoming an integral part of the global economy. While the impacts of women differ immensely from region to region, sector to sector, and culture to culture, there is widespread controversy about the process and impact of “globalization” — the phenomenon that is largely viewed as responsible for these changes.

Proponents describe it as a process that generates positive opportunities for woman — and people in general. Opponents, or anti-globalists as they are often called, worry that globalization acts somewhat like a widespread cancer that harms people, particularly women and the poorest of the poor, by shifting resources and opportunities to those who can most afford them.

Discussions of globalization has taken central stage for many organizations devoted to assisting and developing opportunities for women, causing some organizations to move beyond their traditional hands-on, grassroots effort to grapple with issues of public policy. Self Employed Women’s Association, a membership organization of nearly 70,000 women in the informal economy in the developing world, for example, states:

Globalization and the policies of economic liberalization have come to dominate the national and international debate both at the economic and political level. The debate on the issues concerning globalization seem to be polarized with some groups seeing it as leading to growth and development and the way out of poverty, and other groups seeing it as leading to more misery and impoverishment.

It is easy to understand why views on globalization are so wide ranging and why some are sounding alarm bells. As is frequently the case with terms that rapidly become part of our daily vernacular, definitions and understanding of the term are often glossed over. Few people can actually give an accurate definition of globalization — or agree on a single definition — leading to the situation in which loudly-proclaimed emotions and reactions become the defining “aura.”

This paper first examines the term “globalization,” and then reviews some of the prevailing perceptions about globalization, paying particular attention to its impact on women around the world.

The underlying perspective of this paper is that globalization is an integral, inevitable part of human action. We can best improve conditions for women worldwide by facilitating opportunities for people to take actions to improve their individual lives. Through successive experimentation and observation about what works and what doesn’t, people naturally adapt and improve their situations, and in so doing, gradually improve conditions for people as a whole. Hence, institutions which afford the greatest latitude for such exchange, discovery and action, offer our best hope for combating poverty, disease, inequality, and other problems that disproportionately impact women around the world. Conversely, institutions that constrain these opportunities, exacerbate poverty and misery, leaving others to control the lives of the poorest of the poor.

Jo Kwong is a visiting fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.