Just Sociology

The Impact of Globalisation and Modernisation on Gender Roles: Challenges and Opportunities

Modernisation theory claims that as developing countries undergo industrialisation, they will naturally modernise and their societies will become more modern and gender-equal. However, despite decades of development strategies aimed at promoting modernisation, women in many developing countries continue to be subordinated.

This article will explore Modernisation theory’s explanation for women’s subordination in developing countries and its impact on trade, economic growth, and gender equality. The article will further analyse the impact of trade openness and information and communication technology (ICT) on women’s economic opportunities and the changes in employment trends and global distribution of production and labour.

Internal Cultural Factors and Traditional Cultures

Modernisation theory has always posited that traditional cultures and religious ideas perpetuate women’s subordination, as women’s roles are assumed to be confined to the home rather than the public sphere. Here, modernisation means a shift from traditional agriculture and communal organization to industrialization and individualization, resulting in the breaking down of traditions that caused social and economic harm to women.

Modernisation tends to reduce the patriarchal control of males over females, but religious ideas, together with traditional cultures, obstruct women’s liberation in many developing countries. Therefore, traditional cultures may inhibit progress towards gender equality by placing undue cultural significance on customary instead of economical factors.

Religious edicts have influenced gender roles and ideas about family values, marriage and socialization, with women often relegated to subordinate roles to their male counterparts. For instance, in many African societies, specifically Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, womens exclusion from significant economic opportunities such as owning property and land, setting up businesses, formal education and employment is perpetuated by cultural traditions influenced by norms and values rooted in customary and religious beliefs.

Relationship Between Modernisation, Economic Growth, and Greater Gender Equality

Modernisation theory argues that developing countries that achieve sustained economic growth will eventually see significant progress in addressing gender equality. The World Bank began promoting this narrative in the 1990s when they pushed developing countries to leverage globalisation, by positioning themselves as exporter countries, and increase their reliance on manufacturing in order to spur economic growth, which would inevitably lead to greater gender equality.

However, this theory does not hold up to the evidence. Economic growth does not necessarily guarantee women’s economic opportunities, and there is little evidence that more economic growth contributes to much-needed social changes towards gender equality.

Additionally, economic growth on its own may exclude women from economic opportunity due to the gendered nature of skills, income, and the labour market. Furthermore, although women’s employment in specific sectors such as Information and Communications Technology (ICT), manufacturing, and services has increased significantly in developing countries, women remain underrepresented in decision-making roles or informal activities that create sustainable income.

Therefore, women’s participation in the labour market alone will not guarantee their empowerment in society. Social institutions, such as the legal system and broader cultural norms, must transform radically to empower women and create gender equality.

Impact of Trade Openness and ICT on Women’s Economic Opportunities

Trade openness and the globalization of markets have developed the potential for higher-paid and skilled work in exporting sectors, and that shortening distances and changes in transportation have facilitated a shift towards technology enhanced ITC hubs in emerging countries. This, in turn, has altered the prospects for women’s economic opportunities, yet the transfer of technology and business practices to developing countries has been only modestly successful.

It has been noted in research that developing countries’ successful adoption of new technology and trade policy depends heavily on having strong domestic institutions in place, such as those governing quality control, human resource development, and infrastructure. Therefore, a comprehensive approach is needed, one that focuses on developing the capacity needed to access new technologies and manage regulatory frameworks in the regions that could benefit the most from trade.

In specific sectors, such as agriculture, there is evidence to show that the secondary effects of technological adoption and productive innovation could produce more equitable outcomes for womenparticularly small-holders and female entrepreneurs. However, barriers to womens access to labor markets and entrepreneurial opportunities linked to entrepreneurship remain formidable; women continue to face greater obstacles than men in accessing basic resources, such as credit and land ownership, which fosters a gender gap in economic production outcomes.

Changes in Employment Trends and Global Distribution of Production and Labor

Despite womens labour force participation increasing over time in many regions, disparities in the type of work women perform and their remuneration are still persistent. Women are frequently labelled in gendered terms when it comes to particular work and sectors, including emotional, care-oriented jobs, teaching and nursing.

These stereotypes make it difficult for women to enter male-dominated careers. Moreover, as economies continue to shift towards service and manufacturing sectors, job opportunities that have increasingly become available to women remain undervalued, fleeting, and underpaid.

Therefore, an even larger gendered worldview of economic activities is emerging alongside economic masculinisation, directed by the widening gender gap in income and wealth. The broader reality is that transforming the global distribution of production and labour necessitates gender-responsive approaches.

One of the ways this can be achieved is by creating policies that provide women with equal access to non-traditional jobs and nurturing factors for success as workers and entrepreneurs. Collectively, these policies can contribute to a more equitable world, where gender equality and economic growth support each other to create positive change.


In conclusion, being able to identify the problems faced by women in developing countries provides an opportunity for change in how we approach globalisation and modernisation. However, if gender inequality is to be tackled effectively, then we need to adopt new gender-responsive policies focused on women’s economic advancement that prioritize creating social opportunities and networks for women-owned businesses.

Countries must ensure that policies involving education, property rights, and inheritance laws prioritize the female population in addition to generating new economic opportunities at every level of engagement. This collaborative policy approach will not only enhance gender equality but will also stimulate sound economic growth, in line with the tenets of modernisation theory.The phenomenon of globalisation has transformed the way in which societies interact with one another by means of increasing interconnectedness and interdependence.

However, how globalisation affects gender norms and the formation of gender roles is a topic that remains contested in academic discourse. This article will expand on this topic, particularly how exposure to information through media and the internet affects the formation of egalitarian attitudes in gender roles, and the feminisation of urban public space and its redefinition of purdah in Bangladesh.

This article also evaluates modernisation theory applied to gender, the strong correlation between trade economic growth and gender empowerment, and the limitations of modernisation theory’s explanation of gender equality.

Exposure to Information and Adoption of Egalitarian Attitudes

The advent of mass media and the internet has played a major role in the transmission of social norms and attitudes, particularly regarding gender roles. Exposure to images of gender equality in developing countries is associated with the higher adoption of egalitarian attitudes towards gender roles.

Television, particularly in Latin American countries, has been found to depict women in more diverse and powerful roles, exposing young men and women to alternative gender narratives. Similarly, access to the internet and social media helps women connect with peers and influencers, providing exposure to alternate gender ideals.

However, while exposure to information has the potential to alter gender norms, the effects are not uniform across the globe. In some countries, traditional gender roles are so entrenched that they remain impervious to external influences.

In Japan, for instance, despite being a liberal democracy, gender roles remain rigid and traditional, with women confined to predetermined aspects of domesticity despite being increasingly educated and economically active.

Feminization of Urban Public Space and Redefining of Purdah in Bangladesh

The feminisation of urban public spacesthe breaking down of the traditional gendered spaceshas sparked debate on how this is redefining existing practices, particularly in Bangladesh. Purdah is a social system of seclusion that segregates women from men in public life, and it was instituted to maintain social decorum and preserve family honour.

This form of social restraint requires women to remain physically veiled and face-obscured in the presence of men. In Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, an increasing number of women are entering public spaces that were once dominated by men.

For instance, more women are now going to university and heading out to work in the city, and as such, public spaces are becoming more gender-inclusive. Reinforcement of social dynamics around gender roles is also being challenged through the actions of local government and non-governmental organisations who are encouraging and facilitating womens participation in public governance.

This change means that previously detached groups of men and women are more frequently forced to negotiate between traditional gender roles within public space. This redefinition of the function and structure of public space is indicative of how globalisation is influencing fundamental concepts of what is deemed acceptable in society.

Strong Correlation between Trade Economic Growth and Gender Empowerment

Modernisation theory’s claim that economic growth will necessarily result in greater gender equality has attracted criticism. However, there are studies that provide evidence supporting the notion that economic growth can be positively correlated with women’s empowerment, which validates the link between economic growth and gender equality in the context of globalisation.

The World Bank advocates for inclusive economic growth and suggests that gender-responsive public policy reforms are essential for achieving higher, more sustainable levels of growth. Countries that have achieved economic growth, such as Indonesia and Thailand, have demonstrated marked progress in producing more opportunities for women in both formal and informal employment sectors.

In these countries, gender mainstreaming involves the incorporation of a gender perspective in economic development. This approach recognizes that economic growth must be inclusive in order to promote gender equality.

Criticisms and Limitations of Modernisation Theory’s Explanation of Gender Equality

Critics have argued that modernisation theory is ethnocentric, and that it presumes a homogenous progression towards development. However, empirical examples show that certain countries have modernised in ways that have solidified their traditional gender roles, particularly in religious contexts.

Saudi Arabia’s transformative process is an example, where a powerful Islamist establishment has adapted to modernisation in contrast to countries’ attempts to reconcile modernisation with the trends of the 20th century to counter gender inequality. Modernisation may also support and replicate existing gender inequalities by focusing on the macroeconomic growth agenda and neglecting women as economic players.

The modernisation concept prioritizes industrial growth over empowering women to become independent actors in the labour market. As a result, women’s employment may be confined to sectors that provide low pay, low status, and offer limited chances of upward mobility.

This reinforces gender exclusion, which counteracts any potential positive effects of development on gender equality.


Gender roles are not stagnant and inextricably tied to social change. Globalisation continues to enhance gender fluidity by redefining gender norms and offer broader opportunities for women.

The feminisation of public spaces, exposure to information, and technology can have a transformative effect on the gender roles and norms of societies. However, gender mainstreaming in economic policy is essential as it helps produce more opportunities for women not solely as beneficiaries of economic growth but also as agents of development.

While modernisation theory has limitations in the context of gender equality, economic growth and gender equality can propel each other towards achieving positive social change.


In conclusion, globalisation and modernisation have had a profound impact on gender roles, norms, and the empowerment of women. Exposure to information and technology has played a significant role in shaping new values, and the feminisation of urban public spaces has redefined the traditional purdah in some regions.

Although there is a correlation between trade, economic growth, and gender empowerment, the limitations of modernisation theory’s explanation of gender equality need to be considered. Despite these limitations, implementing gender-responsive policies will help achieve positive social change, where women can become independent actors in the labour market.


Q: Can globalisation eliminate gender differences altogether? A: No, globalisation cannot eliminate gender differences entirely, but the exposure to new perspectives and technology can play a vital role in eroding traditional gender norms and promoting gender equality.

Q: How does exposing women to public spaces challenge patriarchy in developing countries? A: The feminisation of urban public spaces, combined with the actions of local government and non-governmental organisations, encourages and facilitates women’s participation in public governance, challenging traditional gender roles in society.

Q: Does economic growth alone guarantee women’s economic opportunities? A: No, economic growth alone does not ensure women’s economic opportunities; women’s participation in the labour market must be accompanied by legal and cultural reforms and a focus on gender-responsive economic policies.

Q: Are the effects of modernisation theory consistent across diverse countries and cultures? A: No, different countries and cultures have responded differently to modernisation, indicating that modernisation theory must be evaluated in context while tolerating the adaptation of cultural and religious values.

Q: Can gender-responsive policies lead to sustainable growth and greater gender equality? A: Yes, gender-responsive policies are essential in promoting inclusive economic growth and gender equality as they recognize that economic growth alone cannot guarantee women’s empowerment.

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