The androcentric and heteronormative dimensions of contemporary globalization are largely neglected. However, many social divisions and power relations are interlinked—among them gender, class, race, sexuality and religion—helping to create identities. Since the late nineteenth century, feminist protest and action in favor of sexual minorities have been deployed on an international scale, while migratory flows, inequalities and examples of violence also have gender and sexuality-related aspects.

Theories of gender, the body and sexual minorities have highlighted the androcentric and heteronormative aspects of contemporary globalization. Recent work on intersectionality highlights the way that different forms of discrimination and power relations linked to gender, class, race, sexuality, religion, etc. operate in combination.

Transnational and international activism

Having been broadly neglected by the civil law revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the cause of women’s emancipation was actively taken up in the late nineteenth century in Europe and America, where the first feminist associations called for the right to vote and to access university and certain highly regulated professions.

Women’s suffrage and women in national parliaments, 1893-2018

Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union,

Comment: The database of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (an international parliamentary organization created in 1889) enables the course of women’s struggle for political rights to be followed. Obtaining the right to vote extended from 1893 (New Zealand) to 2015 (Saudi Arabia), with 56 states achieving it before World War II (part of the Americas and of Europe, as well as Russia). It was extended to all the Americas and to Europe, as well as to India and China, between 1939 and 1960 (89 states), and finally to the rest of the world (66 states). Women’s eligibility generally came later and their presence in national parliaments is far from achieving parity (only 3 countries, with 61% in Rwanda). It exceeds 30% in only 48 countries; in the 138 other parliaments numbers of women vary between 29% and 1% (Oman).

The 1960s saw the growth of liberation movements demanding new rights in areas such as sexuality and reproduction and wage equality, which spread to all continents. These movements were supported by regional and international institutions (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean [ECLAC], European Parliament, European Court of Human Rights [OCHR]). The UN adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), held several international conferences on women, from Mexico (1975) to Beijing (1995), and adopted an approach of gender mainstreaming in all its programs.

The social and sexual liberation of the 1960s and 70s also led to the gradual destigmatization of sexual minorities, leading to the decriminalization of homosexuality, the combat against homophobia and the prohibition of certain forms of discrimination (age of consent, access to roles in the army, churches, etc.). Court battles in the 1980s and 90s institutionalized and transnationalized LGBT+ activism in the context of the ravages of AIDS. The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), originally founded in 1978, took on an advisory role to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (1993 and 2011), while the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses (1990) and the European Parliament, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) worked to counter discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and to ensure the recognition of new rights (civil partnership, parental rights, adoption by same-sex couples, trans-sexuality, intersexuality, etc.).

Recognition and protection of homosexuality, 2018

Source: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association,

Comment: For the past 40 years, the NGO known as the ILGA has been bringing national and local organizations together by issuing information and appeals for the application of LGBTI rights. Based on their data, these two maps show the major differences in legislation and protection in countries where homosexuality is legal. It is mainly in Europe, North America, and certain South American countries that these rights are most comprehensive (civil union, marriage and adoption) and protected (notably in the context of combating hate crime or incitement to hatred).

Criminalization of homosexuality, 2018

Source: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association,

Comment: For the past 40 years, the NGO known as the ILGA has been bringing national and local organizations together by issuing information and appeals for the application of LGBTI rights. This map, based on their data, shows that respect for such rights is very unequal throughout the world. Homosexuality is legal in 63% of the countries and territories mentioned, and penalized in 37% of them (Middle East, Africa and certain Asian states), with punishments ranging from prison to the death penalty (in 13 countries).

Global Circulation and Interaction

Increased migration has dimensions relating to gender and sexuality that were present in the colonial period and are now reflected in globalized female migration, domestic work (in homes, child care, social care, etc.), sex work, the gay economy (pink dollar), LGBT+ and the queer internet.

Globalization is also manifested in the persistence of gender pay gaps, the requirement to work part-time, informal employment, the time spent daily on unpaid domestic work and care-giving, etc.

Women continue to suffer from gender-based inequality and violence, including selective abortion, forced marriage, domestic violence and honor killings, the prevalence of virilocal residence, sexual harassment, food shortages, water collection, environmental pollution, lack of schooling, rape as a weapon of war, etc.

Gender gaps in the labor market, 1991-2018 

Source: International Labor Organization, 

Comment: This graph is based on ILO data and classifies regions according to the differences between men’s and women’s levels of participation in employment (registered employment, either part- or full-time). On a global scale, 50% of women work, compared with 80% of men. This average masks contrasting regional situations. The greatest disparity is in North Africa, the Middle East and Southern Asia where women, fairly consistently over time, do not work much (3 to 4 times less than men). The variation between men and women is less – but still between 10 and 15% – in Europe, North America, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Women in the labor force, 2018 

Source: International Labor Organization, 

Comment: ILO data enable the skill levels of working women to be compared with the revenue of the country concerned. The graph only shows the distribution of women in the jobs market according to their skill level; men are not represented. In countries with low revenue, women rarely occupy posts in the intellectual professions or in management, representing under 3%, while men occupy double that number (this is not shown in the graph). Conversely, in countries with high revenue, almost 40% of women do jobs demanding high levels of skill, outdoing men (37% of men occupy these posts).

While classical feminism foresaw the emergence of transnational sisterhood, according to feminist critiques from Afro-Americans (Black feminism) and Latino-Americans (notably in former colonies) neoliberal globalization is based on the intersectionality of power relations and the interaction of issues such as gender, sex, class, race, ethnicity and nationality, while emancipation movements are not similarly convergent. The crucial role of the accumulation of capital and resources enabled by Europe’s colonization of the Americas in the fifteenth century, the forced labor of indigenous and African peoples, violence against women in both the colonies and colonizing countries and the sexual division of labor act to keep women confined in the spheres of reproductive work and the family.

These ideas coincide with others on the transformation of the process of sexual identification. The theory of the bicategorization of the world (hetero- versus homo-normativity, male versus female, etc.), which became dominant in Europe and America in the late nineteenth century and spread with colonization, has been countered by recent scientific discoveries on the significance of continuum and intracategorical variation in relation to sexual dimorphism. Conversely, the experience of colonization fueled the repression of pre-existing minority sexual practices in many societies, including some that had not been colonized but were heavily influenced by western “ modernity.” Since the 2000s the integration of sexual minorities in some previously hostile countries has become a mark of progressive democracy, even in those countries that do not systematically respect minority rights (pink-washing). Homophobia and sexism are essentialized as cultural practices inherent in some places in the world (hence the ethnicization of homosexuality, the stigmatization of some migrant populations and the resurgence of anti-feminist and anti-LGBT+ movements).


To quote this article

" Gender and Sexuality " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:


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