Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 21:22:09 -0500 (CDT)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: LABOUR: Women Trade Unionists Put Globalisation in the Dock
Article: 64691
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <> /** ips.english: 535.0 **/
** Topic: LABOUR: Women Trade Unionists Put Globalisation in the Dock **
** Written 9:09 PM May 18, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Women Trade Unionists Put Globalisation in the Dock

By Mario Osava, IPS, 18 May 1999

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 (IPS)—The seventh conference of women trade unionists, which opened Tuesday in Brazil, put the process of globalisation in the dock.

Women are the main victims of the unemployment, increasing precariousness of work and loss of rights spawned by globalisation, according to participants in the gathering sponsored by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

Low wages, part-time or temporary work, subcontracting and flexibilisation of labour rights are all effects of processes like the liberalisation of trade, financial crises and structural adjustment programmes which hit women workers hardest, the conference underlined.

Nancy Riche, chairwoman of the ICFTU's Women's Commitee and of this week's conference—which runs through Friday—called the results of globalisation a disaster for women.

The profits of transnational corporations balloon as they dismiss female workers and adopt mechanisms for cutting wages, said Riche, who mentioned the telecoms company Bell Canada in her country as a classic example of that phenomenon.

The 43 million female members of ICFTU-affiliated unions—of a total membership of 125 million—are committed to the fight for justice and dignity and against poverty which overwhelmingly affects women and children, she added.

According to United Nations children's fund (UNICEF) statistics, 70 percent of the world's poor are women, said Elsa Ramos with the ICFTU's Department of Equality.

Unemployment also has a female face. In Latin America and the Caribbean, unemployment stands at 15.7 percent among women, compared to 10.9 percent among men. A similar difference is also seen in the industrialised world—11.1 against 8.5 percent.

Other problems faced by female workers are sexual harassment, violence, the glass ceiling, marginalisation from policy- making, and lower wages for the same work.

ICFTU Secretary-General Bill Jordan agreed that women bore the brunt of the impact of social ills like unemployment, illiteracy and inefficient health care systems.

Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan indigenous Nobel Peace prize- winner and a special guest at the conference, also criticised globalisation as a strategy of accumulation of wealth by rich countries.

The millenium is coming to an end with unprecedented wealth. It is not in our hands, however, but in those of just a few families, she said.

The marginalised of the earth today are no longer only the indigenous people, but many millions who do not have the means to live or any chance to express themselves, Menchu added.

But black and indigenous women continue to suffer the worst discrimination, said Benedita da Silva, a black community leader in Brazil who grew up in a favela (shantytown), to be elected senator and later deputy governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

In her speech as conference host, Da Silva stressed education and training as routes through which women could increase their access to participation in decision-making and insertion into the labour market in improved conditions.

Unions constitute an important weapon in the fight against the negative effects of globalisation and distortions that hurt women, underlined speakers at the conference.

This week's gathering of 320 women trade unionists from around 120 countries is thus seeking to promote a global campaign to boost female membership in trade unions.

In areas where women workers are well organised, they earn wages up to 30 percent higher than their counterparts in countries where female membership in trade unions is low, Riche pointed out.

Nair Goulart, the head of the women's section of Union Force, one of the three Brazilian unions organising the conference with the ICFTU, pointed out that major efforts were still needed to fight discrimination against women within the labour movement itself.

Although Brazil's central unions reserve a quota of 30 percent of national leadership posts for women, female workers continue to face a disadvantageous situation at a grassroots level.

For example, only five of the 17 leaders of the Union of Educational Workers are women, compared to 360,000 of the union's 600,000 members.

That inequality is also seen in other areas. Only five of the 60 national coordinators of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) are women, and a mere 3.4 percent of executive posts in Brazil's largest companies are held by women, said Lucia Avelar, a Political Science professor at the University of Brasilia.

Avelar added that women were similarly absent from political posts, even though in general terms women in Brazil have more years of schooling than men.

The slogan of this year's conference is Women Workers of the 21st Century: By Conquering Our Space, We Occupy Our Place. The conference of women trade unionists is held every four years.

Goulart said the meeting was an opportunity to define common strategies, learn about successful experiments carried out in other countries, and promote changes in favour of women.