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February 8, 2001 Course shows how globalization affects women



Lillian Robinson is the principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute..

Photo by Shaun Perry.

by Jane Shulman

Concordia’s new Women and Globalization course aims to drive home the effects of globalization to students by explaining the effects that free trade and the constantly expanding world market are having on women’s lives and work around the world.

Offered through the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Women and Globalization is the first course of its kind at Concordia. Lillian Robinson, the Institute’s principal, connects Concordia students with people being swept up in the global economy by looking at women’s work in other countries and here at home.

From sweatshops in Bangladesh and Mexico to Filippinas indentured as domestic workers in Canada to sex workers in Thailand, reads the course syllabus, free trade is changing women’s work conditions. By talking about the life experiences of women affected by globalization, the course demonstrates its devastating effects.

Robinson explains that women’s studies offers academics a chance to study what other disciplines leave behind.

“Women’s studies looks at the problems of women, and then brings to bear on solutions that other disciplines have to teach us,” Robinson said.

This course includes history, geography, anthropology, political science, geography and law as it pieces together what globalization really means for people in their everyday lives. Issues for discussion include the global office, the labour force on the move, the global sex trade, domestic labour in the global context, the environment and health.

Robinson explains that discussion is integral to the course, as with most women’s studies classes. She encourages involvement by allocating a sizeable portion of the final grade to participation.

Pairs of students are responsible for leading classes. They prepare questions around the readings and steer class discussions. It is a far more personal way of learning than some large lecture-style survey classes, where students may not contribute to class discussions at all because they are afraid of having the wrong answers.

“We try to break down barriers so people are not afraid not to have the answer,” explained Robinson. “By having student discussion leaders, we spread out the debate. Too often, there are a series of dialogues between the students and the professor, but students don’t carry on the dialogue with each other. There is one answer to a teacher’s question, and then the discussion ends. Here, it continues.”

The lounge space on the first floor of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute encourages conversation, too. The chairs are arranged in a circle, meaning students can’t help but take part.

“The lounge forces people to make eye contact. You’re forced to think, forced to interact. Everybody listens to each other and it makes the learning that much better,” said Laura Simpson, a Religion student who has taken several women’s studies classes.

Simpson spoke enthusiastically of the chance to be part of a course that tackles real problems with the intention of making real progress.

“This is a way to echo my political beliefs. It’s a chance to bridge my two worlds — political and academic,” she said.

One of the class’s central themes is that the world is round, and what happens half a world away indeed affects us all.

“Jobs and workers keep moving around the world, but not necessarily in parallel,” Robinson said. Figuring out how that affects people is what the study of globalization is all about.

This is the first in a series on how globalization is seen by members of the Concordia community.