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OPINION: Gender equity in trade

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced new federal programs in both countries designed to promote gender equality in the workforce. The two met in June 2017.

 (AFP Photo)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced new federal programs in both countries designed to promote gender equality in the workforce. The two met in June 2017. (AFP Photo) - The Guardian

“We are sick of gender equality being used as a cynical ploy to justify neo-liberalism”

BY ROSALIND WATERS

GUEST OPINION

Trade Justice P.E.I. recently hosted a well-attended gathering to explore trade agreements and gender equity. As Justin Trudeau has been desperately trying to spin his trade agenda as friendly to “gender equity” we thought we should take a look at what lies behind these claims.

The conversation fast became technical and serious. We systematically went through 6 core provisions of trade agreements - market access rules, rights given to investors under investor/state dispute measures, regulatory co-operation, prohibition of offsets, prohibition of processing requirements and intellectual property rules.

Behind all of this technical mumbo jumbo lies the neo-liberal trade agenda, granting rights to corporations which are not, as it turns out, particularly friendly to women.

For example: they cause increases in the cost of drugs; create opportunities for the cosmetic industry to restrict regulation designed to protect women from the harmful effects of chemicals in cosmetics; enable corporations to interfere with the creation of women-friendly public services such as home care; protect the investments of Canadian mining companies whose operations in poorly regulated developing countries are causing contamination of water and associated problems such as miscarriages and birth defects; and they involve policies which prohibit our government from insisting that foreign corporations in P.E.I. hire a certain number of Island women.

We then read over the so-called gender chapter in the Canada-Chile trade agreement. This chapter has been referred to in media stories as if it might be meaningful for women. Beyond simply affirming already existing international and domestic agreements affecting women’s rights, we found little of note. It establishes a committee to discuss and facilitate the exchange of information on activities related to how women, primarily women of the business class, are benefitting from trade. It is short and fluffy and certainly provides no binding commitments to women.

Since our discussion, Justin Trudeau has agreed to the TPP-11. Under-reported and not mentioned by Canadian government spokespeople is the fact that Vietnam, at the last minute, wriggled out of commitments to raise its labour standards. This is interesting given a recent report released by the Hanoi-based Research Center for Gender, Family and Environment in Development and IPEN which documents the experiences of women workers at Vietnam’s vast Samsung factories. The report refers to fainting or dizziness, miscarriages, standing for 8-to-12 hours, and alternating day/night shift work.

Where’s the gender equity here Mr. Trudeau? You seem quite happy to turn a blind eye to the miserable working conditions of these women for the sake of yet another agreement based exclusively on investor rights.

In a statement issued in December, in response to the Canadian huff and puff about gender equity and trade at the WTO, 164 women’s groups of the Asia Pacific region announced, “We are sick of gender equality being used as a cynical ploy to justify neo-liberalism.” And “Even if the benefits the WTO bestows on the richest 1per cent of the world’s population were evenly split between men and women, the majority of the world’s women would not benefit.”

Here, here!

- Rosalind Waters, Georgetown Royalty is a member of Trade Justice P.E.I.

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