Global measures of gender empowerment: A case study of Sri Lankan Export Processing Zone (EPZ) workers
Place of Publication
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Arts and Humanities
This pape r focuses on global measures of gender empowerment released a n- nually by the UNDP and the World Economic Forum. It discusses and critiques these measures on a global level and juxtaposes this analysis against research conducted among women who work in Sri Lanka's Export Processing Zones (EPZs). Global measures of gender equality show that in Sri Lanka gender-based inequality is increasing, despite the nation dramatically improving its economy and poverty levels and meeting some of the Millennium Development Goals. To explain this contradiction, we sampled 2,304 women to explore how they experienced gender and empowerment and to explore synergies, or lack thereof, with global measures of gender empowerment. What the data revealed was an almost complete contradiction between the experiences of young women at the forefront of export - oriented industrial development (and hence modernization ) and the variables that made up the global measures. Our research clearly shows that women in nations such as Sri Lanka experience ‘ modernization ’ and globalization in complex ways that are influenced strongly at the local and state level by culture, media and public discourse. The women who participated in our research lived complex lives and their experiences indicated that gender inequality and empowerment require far deeper analysis before conclusions can be drawn. The data was far too contradictory to make any claims in this regard. What we did find was that their lived experiences could not be captured by global measures of gender equality and empowerment and we suggest more social research needs to be conducted into this issue.
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