Date: Mon, 14 Dec 1998 15:28:46 -0600 (CST)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS-LATAM: Women Gain Their Own Forum in Mercosur
/** ips.english: 537.0 **/
Women Gain Their Own Forum in Mercosur
By Mario Osava, IPS, 9 December 1998
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 9 (IPS) - Women in the countries of the Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur) now have their own forum, which will directly influence decision-making in South America's largest trade bloc.
The 'Reunion Especializada de la Mujer' (REM - Specialised Women's Meeting) met for the first time this week in the run-up to Thursday's summit of Mercosur presidents in Rio de Janeiro. The new forum will advise the Common Market Group - the Mercosur executive organ - with respect to the treatment of issues that especially affect women.
In Chile, men are the legally recognised heads of households and have the authority to administer family assets, including those of their wives. Women occupy a mere 8.9 percent of seats in Congress and 9.9 percent of government posts.
Chile's situation largely reflects the broader reality of Mercosur - a trade bloc comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and in which Chile and Bolivia have associate status.
But REM, set up Monday in Rio de Janeiro during one of the preparatory meetings for the 15th biannual Mercosur summit, has defined three priorities for overcoming inequality: obtaining reliable statistics on the situation of women in the six Southern Cone countries; drawing up national-level equal opportunity plans; and promoting small companies, said Rosiska Darcy de Oliveira, who headed the meeting.
De Oliveira, the chairwoman of Brazil's National Council of Women's Rights, explained that small companies and micro- enterprises are a sector of the economy of direct interest to women. Also of special interest to women are Mercosur resolutions on labour and social security.
Women have a higher level of participation in small businesses than in other sectors, said Teresa Gonzalez Fernandes de Sola, assistant secretary of the governmental Women's Secretariat in Argentina.
Gaps in national databanks make a precise understanding of women's position in the Southern Cone impossible - a problem that the year 2000 joint census is designed to overcome, said De Oliveira.
The statistics provided by the REM delegates painted a negative panorama for women, although the situation differs from country to country.
In Chile, outdated laws fail to recognise women's rights over family assets, and grant fathers the authority to administer the children's assets - a right that goes to the wife only in default of the husband.
Constitutional amendments being debated in the Chilean Senate will extend to women the "equality in dignity and rights" enjoyed by all men, said Maria Josefina Bilbao, Chile's Minister of the National Women's Service.
In Uruguay, on the other hand, women and men were accorded the same civil status by a 1946 law that guarantees married women "the free administration and disposition of their own assets, their earnings, the product of their activities and the assets that they may acquire."
Nevertheless, the level of participation by Uruguayan women in political posts differs little from the situation in Chile: there are only two women senators in Uruguay's 31-seat upper house and five women deputies in the 99-seat lower house.
In Chile, only two women were elected last year to a 48-seat Senate and 13 to a 120-seat Chamber of Deputies.
Women also fared poorly in Brazil's October elections. The new legislature, to be installed in February, will have only 29 female deputies (out of a total of 513 members) compared to 37 in the current legislature - although the number of women in the 81- member Senate rose slightly, from five to six.
And while women outnumber men in the public administration as a whole, the ratio is turned around at the managerial level in all sectors of the state.
Women in Brazil - whose participation in the economically active population is on the rise - earn less than men and suffer from a higher rate of unemployment, even though they tend to have more years of schooling.
Against that backdrop, a forum through which women will directly participate in and influence decision-making in Mercosur is a major step forward, said Paraguayan Women's Minister Haydee Carmagnola de Aquino. (END/IPS/tra-so/mo/ff/sw/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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