Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

WOMEN-IBEROAMERICA: Female Ministers Debate Globalisation

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Sep 16 1998 (IPS) - Female ministers and other IberoAmerican ministers are meeting from Thursday in Venezuela to discuss the effects of globalisation on women – as they suffer most from the social and employment exclusion of the reigning economic model.

The two-day meeting forms part of the preparatory meetings for the VIII Summit of the 21 Heads of State and Government of Latin America, Spain and Portugal, its two former colonial metropoli, to be held in Portugal in November.

Maria Guzman, chair of the Venezuelan National Women’s Commission told IPS the meeting will approve a document showing a female view of the globalisation process and its general effects on women and society.

Guzman predicted one of the basic statements of the Declaration of Caracas to be presented at the close of the meeting will be that structural changes in the economies “must be accompanied by social policies softening their effect on women.”

The document will be presented to leaders and will stress that women form the most vulnerable group in the face of the neoliberal current feeding globalisation, as they have carried the burden of increasingly precarious employment and deteriorating public services.

“Women are the main users of public services,” said the hostess of the meeting in Caracas, to be opened by President Raul Calderas. No woman has held power in Iberoamerica since Violeta Chamorro went out of office in January 1997.

The meeting will also serve to exchange experiences on the ebb and flow of equality for women in Latin American and Iberian societies, through the presentation of national reports.

This is the fourth preparatory meeting of female ministers and women’s policy makers in the run up to the IberoAmerican summit. In the VII Summit, held 14 months ago on the Venezuelan island of Margarita, women finally had a special clause dedicated to them in the closing declaration.

Globalisation and international cooperation and the view, from a woman’s perspective, of these elements in each country make up the formal agenda of the ministerial meeting.

The common backdrop of the meeting is that neoliberal liberalisation, which has been a general model throughout the decade, has meant more women have sought paid employment, producing an increase in the Economically Active Population (EAP) in all Latin American countries.

Coordinator of the Socialist Continental Women’s Front, the Venezuelan Nora Castaneda, explained to IPS that in one country, Uruguay, women’s participation in the EAP has even exceeded 50 percent, while in Chile it stands at 44 percent and in Venezuela, 39.

But the apparent positiveness of these figures looses its shine under closer analysis as most women work in the informal sector in highly precarious conditions, or in assembly work, a formal niche where exploitation and overwork are known traits.

Isabel Hoterlin, director of the Caracas based Democratic Christian Latin American Workers Centre, stressed women throughout the extensive poor sectors of the region have entered the market in the worst conditions, without permanent jobs and with no right to health and social security benefits.

Castaneda pointed out another negative element is that despite having a greater presence in the work market, they still earn less than men for the same job and rarely get promoted to high posts.

At the blue collar level, the salary difference stands at around 10 percent on average throughout the region, but this gap widens moving up the technical, professional and management scales.

Another social reality is that just as poverty in the region increases and Latin America becomes the area in the world with the greatest social inequity, the number of sole female-headed households is swelling.

Several regional studies say this type of single-parent family make up 70 percent of the poorest of the poor families.

Castaneda added the Latin American societies have imperceptibly absorbed the fact poor women now work a triple day.

Most Latin American women have work outside the home which consumes more than eight hours per day, they have to tend to their families and homes, while also covering community tasks left uncovered by State services.

During the IV World Conference on Women, in Beijing 1995, the women’s non governmental movement stated that following the structural adjustments poverty had become “the mother of all problems” for women in the region.

A document drawn up by the InterAmerican Regional Workers Organisation (ORIT) stressed “poverty first became widespread and then took a gender: the female gender.”

The Caracas based Social Democratic ORIT indicated that the generalised reduction in social budgets in Latin America had led to the “dehumanisation of the social security systems,” which affects women far more than men.

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