by Melanie Takefman
Only seven per cent of the World Banks documents make reference
to gender, despite the fact that the institutions mission is to
eliminate poverty and 70 per cent of the worlds poor are women.
The dearth of economic policies reflecting the needs of women and the
family united academics, activists, and economists from the public and
private sectors in a conference held April 23-26, jointly organized by
Concordia and UQAM.
The conference was based on the premise that a capitalist economy aggravates
patriarchal structures by ignoring the economic and social contributions
of housework and other aspects of the informal sector. Diane
Lamoureux, of Université Laval, speaking in a workshop on patriarchy
and the market, said, Women are superfluous beings whose existence
is not intrinsically valued.
Entitled Womens Access to the Economy in the Current Period of
Economic Integration of the Americas: What Economy?, the conference included
perspectives from Canada, the U.S., Haiti and Chile, among others. With
the Free Trade Area of the Americas imminent, participants want to integrate
feminist and other heterodox theories into mainstream economic policies.
During the opening ceremony, British sociologist Diane Elson said that
free trade encourages the movement of capital to a greater extent than
people and human rights are often ignored. When she travels she needs
a visa, but when she invests her money, no one asks my money for
Myriam da Silva Pacheco Nobre, a delegate from a feminist organization
in Brazil, said that a liberalized economy has given women in her country
greater decision-making power within the family as a result of higher
participation in the work force, but it has also increased sexual tourism,
which is often exploitative to women.
As a former employee of the World Bank and founder of Gender Action,
a non-profit advocacy campaign, Elaine Zuckerman said that international
financial institutions are too powerful to be eliminated and thus must
be reformed from within.
The daily panel discussions squeezed a wealth of debate into a rigid schedule,
as women and an ultra-minority of men conversed in a medley of English,
French and Spanish. Margie Mendell, vice-principal of Concordias
School of Community and Public Affairs and co-organizer of the conference,
said that simultaneous translation was one of the great triumphs of the
conference and facilitated an effective mode of dialogue that is not always
In one of the final sessions, delegates debated whether multilateral
trade agreements like the FTAA were inevitable and whether they were superior
to bilateral agreements in their response to womens needs.
Mendell said that the debates reinforced the need for dialogue and solidarity
At the closing plenary session, Florence Ievers, the co-ordinator of Status
of Women, Canada, announced that a study on trade agreements and women
would be released in the fall.
An educational forum on womens economics at UQAM may be held as
a result of the conference. All of the conferences papers will be
posted online in July. Call 848-8707 for details.