Women's groups express "outrage" at WTO outcome

Below is a statement by Women's NGOs and the Women's Causus during the WTO Ministerial Conference.

WOMEN'S NGOs and Women Caucus in Geneva for the 2nd Ministerial Meeting of the WTO, 18 - 20 May are once again outraged at the failure of the Conference and the Ministerial Declaration to recognise and take cognisance of the reality of women's lives, experience and work.

The Commitments made by governments at the Fourth World Women's Congress in Beijing in 1995 failed to play any role in the proceedings of the WTO Conference, especially the commitment to mainstream gender into all policies and programmes. The disconnection between the work of the United Nations and the work of the WTO is of grave concern to women's organisations that have, with the representatives of wider civil society, sought to enshrine the principles of sustainable development.

Women's work, waged and unwaged, valued or not in national accounting systems, sustains all societies and is demanding of appropriate recognition in the policies of the WTO. Women in most societies have multiple responsibilities and burdens which are on the increase as they endure the cost of free trade and market liberalisation. Women's rights are being eroded and their responsibilities are multiplying in their struggle to hold their households, communities and economies together. The benefits of the WTO have been exaggerated and the costs of its policies to women have been totally overlooked.

The Informal Working Group on Women and Trade, established at the First Ministerial Meeting in Singapore in 1996, has produced a number of working papers that have borne out the stated concerns of women world- wide. These include the following:

Women in developing countries are the main producers of food and women everywhere are the key actors in the food systems. The growing concentration of corporate control over the food systems through the WTO Agreements on Agriculture and TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) has imperiled and denied women's rights as food producers and consumers. Women's expertise in biodiversity and agriculture is further being undermined by trade liberalisation and the TRIPs agreement. Women have, for thousands of years, had an important and vital role in local trade. However, with the current international trade regime, women are being reduced to suppliers of cheap labour and consumers of foreign goods.

Finally, the call for transparency in the WTO by various governments can only be made worthwhile if it ensures the full and consultative participation of the representatives of civil society determined in an open, broad-based and transparent process.

We note the initiatives of the youth and other people's movements in Geneva and around the world to bring the larger issues related to the WTO and globalisation to a popular level. We salute their courage and their commitment to non-violence and a better world for all. (Third World Resurgence No. 95, July 1998)