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WOMEN-IBEROAMERICA: Globalisation Widens Gender Gap

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Sep 17 1998 (IPS) - The inequality of opportunities between men and women gives rise to the threat that globalisation will widen the gender gap, a meeting of female ministers and those in charge of women’s affairs in Ibero-America warned Thursday in Venezuela.

Haydee Carmagnola, the minister of the Women’s Secretariat in Paraguay, said the assymetrical structures affecting women made them especially vulnerable to the process of economic and social globalisation.

Carmagnola opened the fourth Ibero-American meeting of women ministers and those responsible for policies on women Thursday. The two-day gathering will discuss the impact of globalisation on women in the 19 countries of Latin America as well as Spain and Portugal.

The Caracas Declaration focusing on the gender aspect of globalisation will be submitted to the eighth Ibero-American Summit in Oporto, Portugal in November, whose key theme will be the phenomenon of globalisation.

The president of Venezuela’s National Women’s Council, Maria Guzman, said the definition of globalisation varied according to the different pundits and according to the range of experiences in the developing South and the industrialised North.

But above and beyond its definition, an undisputed fact is that “globalisation is male-centred, because it reflects neither the needs nor the realities of women,” she added.

President Rafael Caldera highlighted at the inauguration of the meet that equality between men and women was a debt held by global society, and by Ibero-American society in particular.

Caldera, an 82-year-old independent Christian Democrat whose term ends in February, pointed out that the Spaniards’ arrival to the Americas in 1492 was the result of a decision taken by a woman: Queen Isabel the Catholic.

The president suggested that the countries which are heirs to the encounter between the Europeans and native Americans should learn from the motto of Queen Isabel and her husband, King Fernando: “tanto monta, monta tanto Isabel como Fernando” (roughly: Isabel or Fernando, one and the same).

Guzman said the drastic changes brought about by globalisation had led to a a positive development in Latin America: the emergence of multiple integration processes, which sought to weave a map of regional unity.

In that context, Guzman said women were building “a new form of integration – an integration based on gender identity,” in which those working in an official capacity and representatives of the non-governmental sector participate together in an exemplary partnership.

She pointed out that studies show that women “pay the largest share of the bill for globalisation,” as they are hardest hit by the flexibilisation and growing instability of employment, shrinking social spending and the privatisation of public utilities and services, especially health.

Guzman said the global society in gestation was based on an interdependence between the economic system and financial integration which made the processes uniform, without distinction of borders or national realities, thanks to phenomena like ‘maquiladoras’.

She noted that maquiladoras – foreign-owned assembly plants which use imported inputs to produce export products – were mushrooming in Central America and also increasing in the rest of the region, and added that 80 percent of the workers employed were women, most of them 14 to 25 years of age, and many of them single mothers, who worked 12-hour days in extremely inadequate conditions.

Minister Carmagnola said she was hesitant to talk about democracy existing in the 21 Ibero-American countries as long as women or other social groups were excluded, because the ethic of democracy is “the ethic of equality.”

The Paraguayan minister added that “the relaunching of equality among all is an imperative of democracy and sustainable human development” which cannot be overturned by a globalisation that generates disparities that “enlarge the gender gap.”

Carmagnola suggested that the gathering come up with concrete proposals to submit to the Oporto summit, designed to make international cooperation a tool for redressing the gender imbalance arising from globalisation.

 
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