Groups explore impact of trade liberalisation on women By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
April 27, 2002

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THE Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) Guyana Chapter and Alternatives Action Communication Network for International Development yesterday hosted a workshop aimed at exploring trade liberalisation and its impact on women.

The session at the Main Street Plaza Hotel, Georgetown was attended by a wide cross section of females and `feminists' in their individual capacity or representing various organisations and agencies both locally and within the Caribbean region.

CAFRA is a regional network of feminists, individual researchers, activists and women's organisations who define feminist politics as a matter of both consciousness and action.

It is committed to understanding the relationship between the oppression of women and other forms of oppression in society, and is working actively for change, officials said.

Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Mr. Clement Rohee, opening the workshop, told the large gathering that in order to solve the myriad problems, they must view the gender issue within a wider context - "as part of a comprehensive programme for the development of women".

Focussing on the theme of the workshop - `Exploring Trade Liberalisation and its Impact on Women' - Rohee pointed out that addressing the systemic problems of exclusion and economic inequality will prepare women to take advantage of the opportunities that arise from trade liberalisation.

"As small economies, we cannot afford to discriminate in our human resource capacity building - both men and women must have equal opportunities at education and training and retraining," he said.

He also called on the gathering to ensure that "what motivates us is the energy and dedication to ensuring that the global trading system is crafted in a way that addresses the special and differential needs of countries like ours."

"Let us not allow the process of globalisation and trade liberalisation to consume us all; I charge you at this workshop to advocate your positions and communicate them to regional and international bodies so that governments working in collaboration with NGO's (non-governmental organisations) can design national, regional and international policies that adequately reflect our priorities," Rohee urged.

"As developing countries, the impact of trade liberalisation means a global arena filled with new challenges and opportunities; the challenges are many, particularly in the area of international trade where we as developing countries are largely price takers, and have negligible and often no ability to influence the global commodity markets," he said.

Hence, the advantage more often then not lies with the developed countries, he added.

"We must therefore seek to manage the process of globalisation since controlling it is not a foreseeable possibility," he asserted.

It is often the case, however, that the dynamics of trade liberalisation move faster than the dynamics of gender equality, the Foreign Trade and International Cooperation Minister said.

"Moreover, we must recognise that the issues of gender inequity existed long before globalisation became a household word; what globalisation has done is to compound and exacerbate the problem."

And quoting from a 1998 DFID (the British Department for International Development) study on `global trade expansion and liberalisation: gender issues and impacts', Rohee stated: "Trade expansion facilitates and accelerates the absorption of women in a modern industrial least in those countries which have a comparative advantage in labour-intensively produced goods."

Linking this to Guyana, he said "we have seen this with our garment industry where over 95 per cent of its labour force are female and from 1997 to 2000 the growth in employment has more than doubled due to increase in exports."

Trade in services is the fastest growing component of world trade, he said.

However, for the Caribbean as a whole this area still lacks the necessary research, both at a sector level and, more so in terms of its gender equity effects, Rohee added.

He said that within this broad sector, there are segments where the "feminisation of labour" has been the case over the last 10 years.

According to him, in Guyana from 1992 to 1998, the labour force in finance and insurance remained more than 50 per cent female and in hotels and restaurants, the ratio of women per men has moved from 2:1 to almost 4:1 over the same period.

Providing statistics, Rohee said some 1,116 males and 1,599 females were employed in the finance/insurance sectors in 1992 but this was increased to 2,068 males and 2,413 females in 1997-8.

He also said that in the hotels and restaurants industry, some 998 males and 2,109 females were employed in 1992 while this figure was increased to 1,274 males and 4,008 females in 1997-8.

Agreeing that another issue of much concern remains that of the brain drain, he noted that at the Third Caribbean-UK Forum in Georgetown earlier this month, the issue of the costs to developing countries of the negative impacts of the brain drain was raised.

According to him, it was pointed out at that forum that while much is expended on training human resources, certain professionals within the social sector such as teachers, nurses and doctors are prime targets for developed countries to source labour.

"Such heavy migration creates a vacuum that is costly in terms of financial loss, immediate human resources displacement and long-term losses of the quality of education provided to our young people," Rohee said.

The minister said, too, that the unchecked movement of capital can have very unsettling effects on labour demand, adversely affecting women and men workers and their families as noted at a UNIFEM Conference on `Woman, Trade and Sustainable Livelihoods in Southeast Asia' in Bangkok in November, 1996.

The workshop yesterday was chaired by Ms. Patrice LaFleur, while keynote presentations were made by Ms. Tania Vachon and Ms. Jocelyn Dow.

CAFRA's mission is to celebrate and channel the collective power of women for individual and societal transformation, thus creating a climate in which social justice is realised.

Overall objectives of the association include the promotion and support for the continued growth and development of the feminist movement in the entire region; to research, analyse and document the situation of women in the region from the perspectives of ethnicity, class, culture and gender relations; to network with women's and other organisations which support CAFRA's mission; to influence policy at national, regional and international levels in government and NGOs and institutions, in keeping with its mission; and to support through its work and programmes, efforts aimed at economic self-sufficiency for women.

In terms of the legal status of the association, a brochure noted that CAFRA is registered under the Companies Ordinance of Trinidad and Tobago, as a company limited by guarantee. It was incorporated on July 16, 1990.