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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 195
June 25, 2005

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Rights monitor

Seminar on 'Impact of International Trade and Gender Equality'

Demanding reflections of women's rights in International trade negotiations

Shaila Shahid

Uni-polarity of the world system and consequent threat from the first world endangering the sustainability of the third world nations, makes the situation more vulnerable, owing to reluctance exhibited by the developed nations to abide by various human rights covenants. With increasing poverty and malnutrition among the millions the fact today show that the present regime of neo-liberal corporate globalisation has not brought about the prosperity that it had claimed it would. Speakers at the seminar agreed that the key agents of the new global economy are the transnational corporations, which are depicted as the supreme incarnation of market freedom owing to their superior ability to bring about the most efficient mix of land, labour, capital and technology. The international seminar on "Impact of International Trade on Gender Equality" was held on 16-17 June at hotel Purbani, Dhaka organised by Karmojibi Nari and sponsored by Royal Norwegian Embassy. Representatives of international trade and gender activists, grass roots organisations, trade union federations, women's rights organisations, social movements, media and academia were presented at the event to share their knowledge and experience for developing a collective strategy for the organisations in Bangladesh.

At the inaugural session prominent women's activist and leader of women's movement Shirin Akhter of Karmajibi Nari was presented and spoke about the impact of international trade rule over the women and she warned everybody that it is the time to remind the governments of their responsibility towards the most marginalized and vulnerable like women workers. Trude Gjeldvik of Norwegian Embassy in Bangladesh gave her welcome speech and she stated that more than a decade Karmojibi Nari is playing a crucial role in generating awareness and campaigns around the country concerning the women workers rights as she presented at the seminar as special guest. Often women become the victims of trade violations of human rights, she stressed and also give importance for economic independence and self-reliant of women as women are the main contributor in export oriented industry. Ms. Natividad Bernardino from IGTN-Asia, Philippines and Sarbani Bhattacharya of West Bengal Commission for women , India presented their key note paper at the inaugural session. Ziaul Hoque Mukta, director research and advocacy of Karmojibi Nari gave a brief description of arranging the seminar. While talking about the corporate globalisation he explained that the neo-liberal economic policy, as an ideology is the main driving force behind corporate globalisation. Tasmima Hossain, former Member of Parliament and editor Anannya also spoke at the inaugural session of the seminar.

The two-day seminar was divided into five different sessions. They are: inauguration, Impact of trade rule on gender equality, International trade rule, national legislation and women, Trade and minimum wage: women's concerns and Trade and health services: women's concerns.

karmojibi Nari since its inception has been working on labour and women issues. It recognizes international trade rule and policy as well as one pof the most dominant channels of corporate globalisation that can bring additional changes and opportunities to gender equality. The main objectives of the seminar was:

- How multilateral trade rules affect gender relations.
- Which are the policy issues that could be addressed at grass roots level, national and international trade-policy arena and
- What the NGOs, trade unions, women organisations, and human rights organisations can do at grass roots, national and international level to influence multilateral trade rules.

The session "Impact of trade rule on gender equality" was moderated by Mr. Mahfuzullah of Centre for sustainable development. Mr. Shahidullah of KN presented the paper of Palash kanti Das of Oxfam-GB and discussed the topic of non agricultural market access. While speaking at the seminar Farida Akhter from Ubinig expressed her great concern for imposing the patent on life forms and she demanded that patent on life for m should be excluded from the TRIPs agreement of WTO. Anannya Raihan of D-net Bangladesh discussed about the general agreements on trade in services and Sabrina Verma from South centre, Switzerland spoke on the Mode 4 of the GATS systems.

Dr. Debjani Sengupta, Professor, Department of sociology, University of Kalyani, West Bengal, India presented her paper in the session titled "International trade rule, national legislation and women". She said that women are terribly being exploited all around the world, at home by patriarchy, in jobs by male partners and by unfair trade rule imposed by foreign companies. The session was moderated by Syeda Rizwana Hasan of BELA. Mabel Au from People's alliance on World Trade Organisation (WTO), Hongkong, China said in her speech that the mainstream propaganda is that more trade means more jobs, therefore it is no harm to open more market for foreign investment but in reality we see different scenario. She emphasized basically women's participation in labour market. The main difficulties that usually women faces in labour market that are: gendered wage gap, sectors and job segregation, discrimination on married women and mother, responsibility as family caretaker and inflexible working arrangement in mainstream operation.

Dr. Halida Hanum, managing director, Health promotion ltd. and Dr. Naila khan spoke at the session of "Trade and health services: Women's concerns".

The seminar concluded by a media briefing. All the participants of the seminar agree that though WTO and different transnational companies becomes the supreme authority of global trade governance but the larger society like political party, labour organisations, peasant organisations, human rights organisations and civil society lacking sufficient awareness on multilateral trade rules. Although multilateralism was the main emphasized, the seminar tends to focus on both bilateral and multilateral trade issues. Also it tries to draw attention on the ongoing round of negotiations of the WTO. It is really a matter of concern that this kind of international trade negotiations must consider the gender dimension of trade, since development is not an economic or trade phenomenon only but encompasses a complex network of socio-cultural phenomena.

The objective of the seminar was to develop a common understanding and shared position towards bilateral and multilateral trade issues, to develop a collective strategy and most importantly to find spaces for women. Karmojibi Nari believes that the philosophers have interpreted the world in many ways but the main challenge is to change it and hence it is the time to build our capacity to change the unfair trade rule of dominant world order.

The author is working for Law Desk, The Daily Star


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