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CAFTA & Women
D espite union opposition in several countries, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) squeaked through the House of Representatives by only two votes on July 28, after passing the Senate a month earlier. CAFTA expands NAFTA-style trade to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica—with the possible later addition of the Dominican Republic.
CAFTA’s potential impact on women workers especially is cause for grave concern, as women make up 45 percent of the global workforce, but are 70 percent of the world’s poor. Under NAFTA, wages declined significantly for all Mexican workers, but women made much less than men to begin with, so poverty has increased 50 percent for women-headed households in Mexico.
Experts are predicting a bigger impact in Central America, since countries there are less industrialized and financially stable than Mexico, being predominately agricultural economies.
Women farmers are often invisible in official statistics since the importance of subsistence agriculture to food security and local economies is underestimated. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization now recognizes that women are responsible for the production of 60 to 80 percent of the food in the developing world. Women are 51 percent of the agricultural labor force globally and 63 percent in developing countries. Women farmers in Central America will be further alienated and strapped to compete against U.S. market dumping, as they have less land and fewer resources in the first place.
CAFTA will eliminate tariffs on 80 percent of U.S. goods and 50 percent of U.S. agricultural products, flooding Central American markets with heavily subsidized U.S. produce. “For rural farmers CAFTA means devastation” says Krista Hansen of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.
Additionally, as Central American men migrate to the cities to find work, more and more women will farm full time while maintaining their role as the main caretakers for their children and households. Having less time to balance all these responsibilities on top of trying to compete with U.S. price subsidies often results in major income loss or women losing their farms altogether.
Rural poverty increased from 54 percent to 68 percent in Mexico after NAFTA was implemented. More than 80 percent of Mexico’s extreme poor are rural. After NAFTA, 300,000 women farmers in Mexico lost their farms and their jobs. Of the women farmers left, only three percent have more than ten hectares of land. Women’s farms are usually much smaller than men’s and when land is titled, it is usually put in a man’s name. This has had a severe impact on women farmers because Mexico has changed its land laws under NAFTA in favor of individual property rights, hurting women who used to have communal rights to farm land. Women workers in industrial jobs aren’t much better off, particularly in the free trade zones where they are stuck with monotonous, low-paying work. In the maquiladoras—factories in free trade zones—sex discrimination is especially prevalent: forced pregnancy tests to get hired, physical and verbal abuse, sexual harass ment, and age discrimination.
O ne of the International Labor Organization’s five labor rights is the right to be free from sex discrimination in the workplace, but according to Marianne Mollman of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, “All trade agreements negotiated by the Bush administration have ignored the internationally recognized right to nondiscrimination in the workplace, and none has included adequate labor rights protections.”
CAFTA was designed to facilitate the privatization of public resources and services, from health care and education to water and electricity. Since most public service employees in developing countries are women, they will suffer disproportionately under privatization of these services. With public sector jobs typically providing better job security and health care benefits, job loss due to privatization will worsen living standards. As primary caretakers for their families, women will have to pick up the slack when these services are cut, or be faced with hard decisions between medicine, food, school, or rent.
NAFTA forced 1.7 million Mexican farmers off their land into urban maquiladoras or to the fields of U.S. agribusiness plantations. Before NAFTA there were 900,000 migrant farmworkers in the United States, 7 percent undocumented. Today there are over 2 million, 50 percent of whom are undocumented (80 percent of whom are from Mexico). Undocumented workers are extremely vulnerable to harassment and discrimination; they also suffer under some of the highest rates of workplace injuries and fatalities. Additionally, women farm workers face unique reproductive health problems from pesticide exposure.
As Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velasquez explains, “There are economic interests who want to perpetuate a global low-wage work force and maintain the use of exploitable labor.” In Mexico, the industrialization of agriculture and the added effects of NAFTA have concentrated land ownership in hands of the rich, displacing small farmers who become migrant farmworkers or end up working in maquiladoras.
Close to 1.3 million agricultural jobs were lost in Mexico under NAFTA. It is not a coincidence that there are now 1.3 employees in Mexico’s 2,700 maquiladoras. CAFTA is expected to have an even deeper impact on the lives of Central Americans.
Melissa Hornaday started at Labor Notes in June 2005 after working with Students for Economic Justice (a United Students Against Sweatshops chapter) and interning with the Women and International Development Program at Michigan State University.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.