Women's forum warned of new bondage By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
May 1, 2002

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GUYANESE businesswoman, Ms. Jocelyn Dow, has lamented the fact that based on statistics, the disparity between rich and poor countries has grown enormously over the last few decades with the gap getting even wider.

She has also warned of a new bondage that has come with the changes.

"There are some startling statistics over the past few decades and one of the most amazing statistic is that in the 1960's, the richest countries in the world were 30 times as rich as the poorest; they are now over 80 times as rich as the poorest," Dow told a women's forum at the Main Street Plaza Hotel last week.

She said, too, that there are 450 men who are worth more than 2.5 billion people collectively. According to her, it could be argued that Microsoft computer magnate, billionaire Bill Gates is worth more than 140 million Americans jointly, including all their savings, future savings and pension plans.

"...there is an enormous disparity...," Dow said at the opening of the one-day workshop on `Trade Liberalisation and its Impact on Women' hosted by the Guyana Chapter of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) last Friday.

Dow, a businesswoman, politician and President of the Washington-based Women's Environmental and Development Organisation (WEDO), said: "I don't think I have been yet able to count a woman who fits into even these statistics."

"We're in a world in which disparity is growing," the women's activist said.

In addition, poor countries such as Guyana have enormous debt burdens and while the disparity continues to grow, Dow said they are told to clean up their act, open the markets and take advantage of liberalised trade.

She pointed out, however, that in spite of this call, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was not in a position to take advantage of global trade in goods.

According to her, in 1998 CARICOM's export was 0.31 per cent of global trade and in 1994 the figure had fallen to 0.12 per cent of global trade.

"One of the things that we know about the present circumstances in the world is that poor countries and poor people have to do an enormous amount of work; far more work perhaps than we have had to do perhaps in history, outside of the first days of imperialism and slavery to free ourselves of a new bondage," Dow asserted.

"For many of us as women, we need to work out what it is we need to do as women in the workforce and very importantly as women who are consumers of goods and services," she added.

The workshop 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 that defines feminist politics as a matter of both consciousness and action. It says 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.

Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Mr. Clement Rohee, gave the opening address, and 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 of women to ensure that what motivates them "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 said.

"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.

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