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Gender integration within a globalisation agenda

New Zealand plays a leading role in gender integration policy formation within Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). APEC’s work on mainstreaming gender into economic analysis and removing barriers to women in business is based on the usual mistaken assumption that the APEC/WTO trade liberalisation agenda is good for the world, NZ and women. Feminist economist academic Prue Hyman critically examines APEC’s gender analysis programme.

Why gender integration within a globalisation/trade
liberalisation agenda is bad for women - and for the world

As part of the build up to the 2002 APEC leaders gathering in Mexico this month, women ministers and leaders have been meeting to discuss ‘gender integration’ and ‘mainstreaming’ of women into the APEC agenda. Their statements were a resounding non-event for most women in the region.

Gender analysis, or attention to gender issues in politically correct gender-neutral language, is of course to be welcomed. Done properly, it provides a realistic assessment of how policies impact on all women’s lives, taking account of race, class, and country. These often differ from the impacts on men. Likewise, gender integration or mainstreaming should aim to achieve gender and other forms of equality and ensure that gender analysis is applied in all policy development and evaluation. This is valuable if done well and taken seriously, and supported by a specific gender or women’s unit with responsibility for training and oversight.

All international agencies claim to be converts to ‘engendering economic development’. In 2001,The World Bank said that “Gender equality is a core development issue... it strengthens countries’ abilities to grow, to reduce poverty and to govern effectively.” The goal is to enhance economic growth rather than strive for equity, redistribution, and better living standards for women as ends in themselves. Hence the work produced by officials is often cosmetic at best and dubious at worst. They simply assume that economic/trade liberalisation is virtuous and offers solutions designed to help women employees and entrepreneurs succeed within that economic model. More businesswomen with a stake in the system have the added benefit of reducing dissent about that economic model.

The APEC women leaders meeting in August did at least “recognise that the social and economic impacts of trade and investment liberalisation can reflect and exacerbate existing gender inequalities.” Yet their list of “skills needed by women in the New Economy” left liberalisation unchallenged. Instead it focused on micro enterprise, access to finance, capacity building and networking within the narrow growth framework. The vision, as described by the US State Department official at that meeting, was “to ensure that women and men around the world have ample opportunity to advance free markets and freedom in this information age.”

This vision was spelt out in more detail in two reports commissioned for APEC. A 2001 report prepared at the Canadian North-South Institute identified good practices in gender mainstreaming. Some are worthwhile. The report also acknowledges the downside of globalisation, such as the concentration of women in sectors that are constantly reorganised in the name of ‘global competitiveness’, and the inappropriateness of large scale developments, such as the APEC Women in Aquaculture Project, when women specialise in smaller scale activities. But overall it was not the project's role to question the APEC agenda.

A second paper, on gender implications of trade liberalisation, was prepared by Robert Scollay of Auckland University, based on New Zealand and Philippines experiences. Again, it admits that liberalisation creates losers, at least in the short run, and raises a number of gender issues that have long been obvious to feminists. It mentions, somewhat delicately, the need for APEC to promote labour and human rights provisions, particularly as women disproportionately experience unacceptable working conditions. It (unremarkably) suggests that women’s disproportionate share of unpaid work “should be considered in policy formation” and the design of social safety nets should take account of the “particular vulnerabilities” of women, without suggesting how. Again, this is situated within a model of trade liberalisation that is “confidently expected to deliver overall economic benefits.”

This is not for any lack of critique about how globalisation and trade liberalisation impact on women. Groups like the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN) and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), document how global free markets have increased inequalities, environmental degradation, abusive corporate power and social collapse in many countries. Women have borne the brunt of that damage, with exploitation of their low paid labour in unsafe conditions, of their unpaid, undervalued and unrecognised labour in social reproduction, and often of their bodies.

Even governments have opened up this discussion. The German Bundestag was brave enough in 1999 to appoint a commission on Globalisation - Challenges and Responses. Feminist economists gave presentations at a daylong public hearing in February 2002. This helped ensure a gender perspective throughout the report and a chapter on gender justice. Among those economists was Mariama Williams from IGTN and DAWN. She pointed out the basic realities: that trade policy always impacts on women (and men’s) access to food, water, health and education, because it shapes the economic and social environment on which their income and resources depend. Worldwide, women more often than men face a coercive and oppressive division of labour, lack access to and control over private assets and resources, may not have control over labour and income, their bodies, physical space, intangible resources including information and influence, and productive resources including land, equipment, credit and housing.

Gender integration and mainstreaming undertaken within the liberalisation framework only tinkers at the edges of the questions that insightful gender analysis should pose - we should not be taken in.

Text: 851 words

Prue Hyman, formerly Associate Professor of Economics and Women’s Studies at Victoria University, is a member of the Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa (ARENA). Further information about the effects of globalisation on New Zealand is available by contacting ARENA at www.arena.org.nz

Released by Don Polly, Media Liaison, ARENA
(04) 905-8595 donpolly@clear.net.nz

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