Globalization has led to the rise of export processing zones (EPZs) in poor countries throughout the world. These industries are heavily dependent on cheap unskilled female labor, and women often comprise between 70-90 percent of the total labor force in EPZs throughout Asia, Latin American and Sub Saharan Africa.
While increased access to employment has provided new economic and social opportunities for poor women, the jobs they occupy remain unregulated and unstable. Women workers are systematically denied their rights to regular pay and regular working hours; equal pay for equal work; permanent contracts; safe and non-hazardous work environments; and freedom of association. Sexual harassment in the workplace, and workplace-related sexual violence, is a particularly egregious and widespread form of discrimination against women. Forced sexual relations and pregnancy tests, which become a pre-condition for employment, significantly reduce a woman's ability to demand a living wage and break out of poverty. Working mothers face everyday barriers as they try to support their families. Organizing against abuse is also particularly difficult for women, because of the highly gendered nature of subcontracting and other forms of flexible work. There are strong international labor standards denouncing discrimination and other abuses experienced by women. Read more about female temporary workers in global agro-export industries here.
Over the past several years, the ILRF's Rights for Working Women (RFWW) Campaign has sought to bring together allies throughout the developing world to promote viable remedies for the problem of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Today, the ILRF is extending the scope of its RFWW Campaign to identify the linkages between sexual violence in the workplace, and broader labor rights violations, and to promote strategies that will advance the economic and social rights of working women. Read more about how freedom at work to organize can benefit working women. The ILRF is also committed to challenging the gendered nature of international trade and Big Box industry retail, to advocate for women's rights globally.