Women workers in Malaysia: globalisation and identity
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Women make up the largest percentage of employees laboring for 'progress' in the manufacturing industries in Malaysia. They dominate the labor force in the three top GDP contributors - Electronics, Garments and Textile Industries. In the initial stages of development women were promoted for their 'docile persona and nimble fingers'. Government advertising agencies attracted overseas manufacturing investment through cheap women's labor. However, under the government's new modernization programs images of nimble fingers have disappeared; the rhetoric has changed - Modern Malaysia is high-tech. Nowadays, in a Garment and Textile Trade promotion the government boasts that 'low cost labor, is an advantage no longer enjoyed by prosperous Malaysia.' However, improvements in wages deny the existence of the large numbers of manufacturing industries that continue to exploit low paid labor in Malaysia. The government is in a bind - while it needs to maintain a low-wage policy to continue to attract foreign investment, it needs to promote capital intensive industries so that the garment and textile industry can compete with the technologically sophisticated industries in other industrialized countries. What does this mean for women workers? Women's identity as labor-intensive workers is 'out of sight, out of mind' under the government's modernization program. The traditional garment industry is relegated to the less visible sites of production and to homework.