On 12.3.2019, as a parallel NGO event at the CSW 63 in New York, a Global Feminist Alliance for Trade Justice was presented. Mariama Williams (Gender and Trade Coalition, South Centre) moderated the presentation and discussion.

“Tricky feminism” was the term Gita Sen, feminist scholar and co-founder of the women´s network DAWN, used to describe the strategy of global finance and trade institutions to integrate “gender equality” in their discourse, e.g. by adding “gender clauses” to highly problematic trade agreements.

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Gita Sen speaking, with from left to right: Mariama Williams, Christina Palabay, Ranja Sengupta and Michelle Maziwisa.

Before we happily agree to such paragraphs, we should take a look at “the rest of the agreement”. What have free trade agreements have done for women so far, who has benefitted?

As the WTO negotiations got stuck in the Doha round during the previous decade, regional and bilateral trade agreements have become wide-spread. In this context, the international feminist mobilization via IGTN, an international gender and trade network founded in 1999, had lost its political counter part and momentum some years ago.

Why reviving an international feminist alliance on trade justice now?

Today´s trade agreements go far beyond the international trade with goods. They have far reaching effects and reduce public policy space, as Ranja Sengupta (Third World Network, India) pointed out, as they include investment, public procurement, intellectual property rights.

Afbeelding van Gea Meijers (1)Michelle Maziwisa (FEMNET, South Africa) explained how the trade agreements benefit a few, but not for example the farm workers, many of them women, who suffer from bad working conditions and are exposed to pesticides that affect their health, including their reproductive health. 55% of South African people live beyond the poverty line and earn less than 90 US$ per month. They did not benefit from the export of wine and fruits or minerals.

Christina Palabay (Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development / APWLD), a network with 235 member-organisations in 27 countries), stated that women workers have suffered wage losses and bear the burden of the privatization and reduction of public services. Currently, further trade agreements are being negotiated which shall force governments to give up subsidies for the poor, leaving the population more vulnerable and exploitable.

For those who want to join the Gender and Trade Coalition, please take a look at the “Unity Statement” that serves as a basis of common understanding and of joining the coalition. Welcome in the Alliance!

By Claudia Thallmayer (WIDE Austria / WIDE+)