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October 24, 2002 Conference explores women's role in integrated economy





by Melanie Takefman

Only seven per cent of the World Bank’s documents make reference to gender, despite the fact that the institution’s mission is to eliminate poverty and 70 per cent of the world’s 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 Women’s 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 a visa.”

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 Concordia’s 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 possible.

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 women’s needs.

Mendell said that the debates reinforced the need for dialogue and solidarity among women.
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 women’s economics at UQAM may be held as a result of the conference. All of the conference’s papers will be posted online in July. Call 848-8707 for details.