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Nobel Prize Winner opens Women Workers Conference with call for World Unity among women

ICFTU OnLine..., 095/990518/DD, 18 May 1999

Rio de Janeiro, May 18 1999, (ICFTU Info): Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemalan Nobel prize winner, and world-famous campaigner for the rights of indigenous people opened the ICFTU 7th World Women's Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a call for a common agenda for women to fight globalisation, and to bring about peace and democracy.

Rigoberta's speech won a standing ovation from the 300 delegates, particularly when she attacked the world trading system which makes so many millions of people powerless. "These people have no voice," she said. "They are forgotten because they have no way of making their message heard".

She described how globalisation has meant that it is no longer just the many millions of indigenous people who are forgotten, and have no rights. "Globalisation has made paupers of us all" she said.

She called for a common strategy, and an alliance of civil society, where women as workers, mothers and individuals should join together to fight for the survival of ordinary people. She called for a common agenda based on the development of democracy, and the fight for human dignity.

"I have come here to welcome you to a new millennium, based on people fighting together for their rights" she said. "Women die for their rights, but they will also achieve them", she finished.

Rigoberta Menchu joined the other speakers on the opening day of the Conference "Demanding Our Space, Taking our Place", which runs from May 18 - 21.

Nancy Riche, Chair of the ICFTU Women's Committee, who also spoke at the opening, pointed out the role which women trade unionists have played in fighting for workers rights. "Workers rights are essential for working women's rights" she said.

"Women have been at the table in all the discussions on basic labour rights. It was women trade unionists who got workers rights included in the final Declaration of the UN World Social Summit in March 1995, and it was women trade unionists who got workers rights included in the UN's Beijing Platform for Action".

"We are demanding our space, so that we can take our place", she finished.

Other speakers included Bill Jordan, ICFTU General Secretary who welcomed the delegates to the strong gathering of the women workers, and Luis Anderson, General Secretary of the ICFTU Organisation for the Americas. Representatives of the three Brazilian affiliates, which are hosting the Conference in Brazil, Nair Goulart, Força Sindical, Maria Ednalva Bezerra, CUT, and Lea Santos, CGT, also spoke at the opening ceremony.


According to UNICEF, 1.3 billion people are living below the poverty line, 70% of them are women;

Women have been worst hit by the current financial crisis, which has pushed one third of the world into recession;

The social cost of the crisis in Brazil, where the conference is being held, has already led to education budgets being cut by 10% and health budgets by 6%;

The Conference is being oragnised by the Brussels-based ICFTU, which has 124 million members in 213 affiliates organisations in 143 countries. 43 million of its members are women, and being hosted in Brazil by the three trade union organisation: Força Sindical, CUT and CGT.

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
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For more information please contact: Luc Demaret on: 00 322 224 0212 - press@icftu.org