Jobs at the Borders: What policies can promote gender equality and growth in ASEAN's economic zones?
The development of border economic zones represents an important industrialization strategy for Thailand, and provides opportunities for two of its poor neighbouring countries, Cambodia and Myanmar. With the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Economic Community in sight, more and more border zones are being designated as special economic zones. These zones host labour-intensive industries such as garment production, which predominantly employ young, migrant women. But because these zones are in border areas, they represent both opportunities and risks in creating an empowering labour environment for women. This project examines how employment of migrant women in special economic zones can contribute to better economic outcomes for women in the rapidly changing garment industry in the ASEAN. The study examines how migrant women and their work and lives at border zones differ from those in more central locations. The study will employ both quantitative and qualitative data collection for gender analysis, addressing questions such as: Does border development create more employment opportunities? Does it allow women to keep closer ties with their communities of origin? Does it create a space where there is little or no protection? Does it create a space where women and men can break free from gender roles back home? The project will interview about 1,000 workers in more than 20 factories about their employment history, personal background, family relationships, reproductive history, health issues, childcare, and general working conditions. In-depth interviews and focus group discussions will follow to learn more about their perceived difficulties, coping strategies, identities, relations with others, and prospects for the future. Researchers will share findings with garment factory owners and associations, government officials dealing with border development, civil society, and other regional stakeholders to trigger a discussion on gender-sensitive improvements in policies and practices. Research will be carried out mainly in the Thai town of Mae Sot (Burma-Thailand border) and the Cambodian town of Bavet (Cambodia-Thailand border). The Gender and Development Program at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) will lead the research, in collaboration with the Mekong Migrant Network, a regional non-governmental organization that promotes migrant workers' well-being. The project is co-funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Japan's Toyota Foundation.