DV454      Half Unit
Gender, labour markets and social change in the Global South: theory, evidence, public action

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Marzia Fontana


This course is available on the MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Health and International Development, MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Students will be allocated places to courses with priority to ID and joint-degree students.  If there are more ID and joint-degree students than the course can accommodate, these spots will be allocated randomly.  

Non-ID/Joint Degree students will be allocated to spare places by random selection with the preference given first to those degrees where the regulations permit this option.

Course content

One of the longest running debates within the feminist literature, and one that has been replayed in the field of gender and international development, relates to the relationship between women’s access to labour market opportunities and their position within the family and community: the exploitation versus emancipation argument. These debates have been given fresh lease of life in the development literature as a result of the growing feminisation of labour markets in recent years in most regions of the Global South.  They have been further complicated by additional claims that have had a great deal of traction in policy circles that greater gender equality in the labour market has enormous growth as well as emancipatory potential: ‘the smart thing to do as well as the right thing to do’. At the same time, a great deal of feminist literature as well as international campaigns, like the anti-sweatshop movement, highlight the extremely exploitative terms on which most women take up paid work and contest the view that increased access to paid work has been empowering for women. At the heart of these conflicting positions are conflicting views about how power, privilege, choice and agency play out in the market place.

This course will be organized around these debates.  It aims to equip students with the ability to analyse and assess the competing claims around this critical set of issues by providing them with a firm grounding in theory, evidence and public action relating to gender and labour markets in the Global South.

It will meet this objective through three main components.

The first component will focus on the different positions within these debates, the claims around the empowerment potential of labour market participation and the claims around growth. It will examine key concepts and theories relating to gender, households and labour markets which provide the underpinning to these claims. It will consider how inequality, power and difference is dealt with in these theories. It will also examine  the different definitions of ‘work’ which feature in these theories and the extent to which they capture labour markets and livelihood strategies in different regions of the Global South.

The second component will draw together the empirical literature to consider the evidence relating to gendered patterns of labour market participation in different regions of the world. It will start out with a broad-brush account of the changes that have taken place in domestic and global labour markets over the last few decades and then consider in greater detail how these markets function at the local level in low and middle income countries.  It will also analyse how market forces are restructuring some of the intimate aspects of family relations through the commodification of services that were previously provided as part of the marital contract. 

The third component will evaluate various forms of public action by policy, corporations and civil society actors that have been taken up in response to their positions with regard to the gender dynamics in the economy. These include policy measures to promote greater gender equality in the labour market, minimum wage legislation, social protection and corporate social responsibility, anti-sweatshop movements, new forms of unionism and feminist activism.


15 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to submit a 1500 essay which will not count towards their final marks but which will allow them to receive feedback on their ability to read critically,to synthesise arguments and to ensure that their writing style meets the standards required by the school. It will also address learning outcomes 1 and 4.

Indicative reading

Beneria, L., G. Berik and M.S. Floro (2016) Gender, Development and Globalization: Economics as if people mattered  London: Routledge

World Bank (2012) World Development Report, 2012: Gender Equality and Development  Washington: World Bank

Kudva, N. and L. Beneria (eds.), Rethinking Informalization: Precarious Jobs, Poverty and Social Protection. Ithaca, NY: Internet-First University Press. Available at D-Space Repository at Cornell University,  http://hdl.handle.net/1813/3716.

Goyal, P. and V. Yadav (2014) ‘To be or not to be a woman entrepreneur in a developing country?’ Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management Vol 2 (2): 68-78

Dunway, W. (2014) Gendered commodity chains: seeing women’s work and households in global production Stanford University Press: Stanford

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar (2015) Servants of globalization: migration and domestic work Standford University Press

Dolan, C. and D. Rakak (2015) The anthropology of corporate social responsibility Berghahn Books

UN Women (2015) Transforming economies, realizing rights  New York: UN Women

Kabeer, Naila, Kirsty Milward and Ratna Sudarshan. (2013). Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy. Beyond the Weapons of the Weak. Zed Press, London

Elson, D. (1999) Labor market as gendered institutions: Equity, Efficiency and Empowerment Issues World Development Vol 23 (11): 611-627

ILO (2018) Care Work and Care Jobs: for the future of decent work. Geneva: ILO

FAO, ILO and IFAD (2010) Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment: differentiated pathways out of poverty Rome: FAO


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2018/19: 24

Average class size 2018/19: 12

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness