The involvement of women in the textile production is age-old. The textile sector, which – even in the context of mechanization since the nineteenth century – is highly labour-intensive, has always been in need of cheap, flexible labour. In much of history, women (and children) provided such a source of labour. This contribution contextualizes women’s work in the global textile industry by looking at broad patterns in the relocation of the textile production over the twentieth century, most notably the shift from the production in “the Global North” to “the Global South”. It aims to identify the most important drivers of these shifts, as well as its consequences for women workers. It argues that globalization, in combination with the availability (or absence) of alternative work opportunities for women has played a major role in the relocation of textile production across the world.


Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk (1975) is Professor of Economic and Social History, affiliated with Utrecht University and Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. She is currently Principle Investigator in the ERC-Consolidator Project TEXTILELAB (2018–2023), on the role of households and gender in the history of textile production worldwide.