Trade, Investment And Women's Economic And Social Rights In Africa
The Gender and Economic Reforms in Africa (GERA) Programme works in eight countries on research, analysis and advocacy. This session explored the work that GERA has been doing and questioned what has gone wrong with the trade and investment agenda in Africa.
- Karen Coetzee NULAW/GERA, South Africa
- Zo Randriamaro Third World Network-Africa / GERA, Madagscar
- Mariama Williams IGTN/DAWN, Jamaica/USA
- Pauline Vande Pallen GERA, Ghana
Karen, a South African trade unionist, explained the changes that occurred in her industry when it entered the global economy including not only large job losses but also competition between workers, a rise in multi-skill positions, the implementation of incentive schemes and the removal of special treatment during pregnancy. Karen recounted how the GERA programme had given her the research skills she needed to go into her own workplace and do this research. She also called for global resistance - the only tool workers have in the face of globalization - as well as the protection international law.
Zo presented the central findings of GERA research projects in the context of the global economic and political order which is characterized by the prominence of trade. Some of these findings include:
- Trade and Agriculture: falling prices no longer cover the costs of production; promoting genetically modified crops is becoming integral to agricultural policy; lack of market access in combination with dumping and low prices are producing revenue losses for the state; women exporters of non-traditional exports are most penalized by onerous health and safety regulations; and developing countries are systematically prevented from exporting value-added products. Labour and Women's Rights: increasing flexibilization in the labour market; workers now must be multi-skilled; the strategy on the part of employers is to extract the maximum profit from worker's labour; many women loose work through displacement by cheaper inputs and subcontracting to the informal sector; and intersecting disadvantages of race and gender have been observed.
- Foreign Direct Investment: promised increased employment and technology transfer to local industries has not happened; women are the most impacted by oil development and are occupying oil sites and leading protests against current policies and practices with respect to foreign direct investment and oil exploitation.
These various research projects point to the value of a political economy approach to the analysis of trade and investment from a gender approach. GERA research provides evidence of the impact of macroeconomic policies at the micro level. It shows how the interaction between trade and other policies is disempowering to women as is the "one-size-fits-all" approach of donors and the international community.
Working from this body of research findings, GERA is planning an advocacy strategy for the next World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial meeting to be held in Cancun in 2003. Trade liberalization is having a negative impact on women in Africa, increasing their vulnerabilities and undermining their capabilities, but these impacts are unlikely to be addressed in the short-term. Preventing further deterioration of the current situation therefore has to be the basic approach. With respect to new issues (especially procurement and competition), we should demand assessment of the social and economic impacts of existing policies with the idea that it is easier to prevent problems than to cure them. New issues will aggravate the negative impacts of existing agreements and therefore our most urgent advocacy point must be to oppose the inclusion of any new issues within the mandate of the WTO. GERA research can be used to support these arguments.
We have our work cut out for us with respect to issues of trade and foreign investment in Africa. As all policies start within a gendered framework, gender is of critical importance in trade and investment policy. We still need case studies and we need to challenge claims that it is trade that is creating new jobs or improved living conditions. We need to consider trade policies in the broader context of national conditions, economic restructuring and global economic integration. Piecemeal solutions won't work. In advocating for reform we need to think about the political context which forms the context for the reform - will we be able to control the reform we are advocating for once it is implemented? What will we do with reformed institutions once they are reformed?
2002 AWID Forum, Session #258