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

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Naila Kabeer


This course is available on the MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Gender, Development and Globalisation, 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 also played out 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 (which have a great deal of traction in policy circles) that greater gender equality in the labour market has enormous potential for economic growth. At the same time, a great deal of contemporary feminist literature as well as international campaigns have highlighted the extremely exploitative terms on which most women take up paid work, contested the view that increased access to paid work has been empowering for women and questioned the instrumentality of the ‘gender is good for growth’ argument.


This course will be loosely organized around these debates.  It will seek to equip students with the ability to analyse and assess these competing claims about what is a very critical issue in the field of international development by providing them with a firm grounding in theory, evidence and policy debates relating to gender and labour markets in the Global South. It will meet this objective through three components which will build on each other. 


The first will focus on the different positions taken within these debates and the rationales put forward to justify these claims. It will examine key concepts and theories relating to gender, households and labour markets which provide the theoretical underpinning to these claims. In particular, it will distinguish between the concepts of capabilities, empowerment and economic citizenship as ways of capturing changes associated with work.  It will also consider the different definitions of ‘work’ which feature in these theories and the extent to which they capture the labour market and livelihood strategies of households 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. It will then consider in greater detail how these markets function in low-and middle-income countries and the intersectional segmentation of occupations and tasks that they generate. It will analyse how market forces are restructuring some of the intimate aspects of family relations through the commodification of reproductive and sexual services that were previously provided as part of the marital contract. It will conclude by considering what these changing dynamics of the labour market tell us about women’s position within their families and the wider society and revisit the arguments about gender and growth.


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, including minimum wage legislation, social protection and corporate responsibility. They will also include new forms of unionism and collective action that have sought to promote economic citizenship and the rights of women workers at global and local levels.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars in the LT. Seminars will be at or upwards of 45 minutes duration and lectures will be at or above 60 minutes duration.

Student on this course will have 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.


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


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


Grantham, K. G.Dowie and A. de Haan (2021) Women’s Economic Empowerment: Insights from Africa and South Asia  (Routledge, London and IDRC)




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

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 24.1
Merit 53
Pass 22.9
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2020/21: 57

Average class size 2020/21: 11

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

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