Women in Trade Policies and Practices

The publication “Finding the Missing Women: Trade Issues from a Gender Perspective” tackles the effects of trade liberalization and promotes gender perspective in its analysis in order to recognize the roles and needs of women in the industry.

Why does the Philippines import rice when one of its top commodities is rice? Why do products made in China flood the local and international market causing the local industries to shut down? Why does the government encourage Filipinos to go abroad and promote the proliferation of call centers in the country? These are all manifestations of the global phenomenon called “trade liberalization.”

Trade liberalization is the opening of the local market to foreign goods and services through the reduction or elimination of tariffs and trade barriers. As a member country of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Philippines is obliged to adhere to this economic phenomenon. The WTO has argued that trade liberalization would reduce poverty as it would promote economic growth in developing countries. However, after more than a decade of implementing the policies on free trade, developing countries like the Philippines have seen negative results of trade liberalization. Contrary to the notion of WTO, the benefits expected to be derived from liberalizing the market did not materialize as these policies favor the multinational corporations owned by the First World countries. The bitter truth is that many Filipinos, especially women who are the dominant sector in industries affected by trade liberalization, are suffering from the effects of this unequal playing field.

The effects of trade liberalization in the Philippines particularly on women are discussed in the publication entitled “Finding the Missing Women: Trade Issues from a Gender Perspective” that was published by the Fair Trade Alliance and supported by the University of the Philippines’ College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) through the Department of Women and Development Studies. The publication was launched on March 20, 2007 at the Bulwagang Tandang Sora, CSWCD. The publication traces the impact of trade liberalization on Filipino women and analyzes the factors that affect their disadvantaged position in this trade market phenomenon. The publication is composed of eight research studies written by the following authors: Rosalinda Pineda- Ofreneo (Bridging Gender Into the Trade and Development Discourse and Agenda); Jeanne Frances I. Illo (Gender, Trade and Government Policies: A Framework for Assessing Philippine Experience); Marina Fe B. Durano and Josefa “Gigi” Francisco (Trade in Audiovisual Services: Negotiating the Issues of Redistribution, Cultural Diversity, and Gender Equality); Mary Lou L. Alcid (Gender, Migration, and GATS Mode 4); Dennis Batangan (Trade and Gender Issues in the Access to Antiretrovirals (ARVs) in the Philippines); Daryl Layesa (Imported Onions Make Women Farmers Weep); Teresita Barrameda (Gender and Market Access in the Seaweed Industry); and Ma. Gichelle Cruz (Gender, Trade and the Footwear Industry).

Illo introduced the value chain analysis as a useful methodology in assessing the experience of Filipino women in relation to trade policies. Considering the marginalized position of women in our society, where their voices are unheard and their productive and reproductive roles unseen, a methodology that looks into every aspect of production is necessary. According to Ofreneo “the value chain analysis has been proven invaluable in understanding the roles, issues, and problems of producers and workers at every level of the chain of production based on their gender and resource status” (p. 3).

The papers cite the WTO instruments that promote trade liberalization and have affected the industries/sectors where women are the key players. These instruments are the following: 1. Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), which provides for further tariff reduction on agricultural products; 2. Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), which stipulates further tariff reduction on industrial goods including fisheries, forestry and mineral products, and other products not covered by AoA; 3. General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), which encourages trade services including personal services and treating these as commodity, thus prompting the growth of migration abroad; and 4. Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS), which serves as the foundation of Intellectual Property Rights (exclusive right and control over one’s inventions/intellectual property). Contrary to the aim of trade liberalization, studies have shown that these policies were unfairly implemented by developed countries (US, European countries, and Australia) as they push for developing countries to have greater reduction in tariff but they themselves impose high tariffs and unjust trade barriers; thus Filipino exporters are having difficulty to enter their market.

In the case of the onion industry as studied by Leyesa, the AoA has greatly affected the lives of the women farmers who have dominated the harvest and post-harvest stages of the industry. She points out that due to the importation of onions that increased 800,000 times between 1995 to 2004, many Filipino onion farmers were displaced and lost their jobs as the industry could not compete with the cheap imported onions that are subsidized by the governments where they originated. However, despite women’s important contribution to the industry, Leyesa observed that their voices are not considered during consultations.

The women in the seaweed and footwear industries also experience invisibility in the production process. In the seaweed industry, Barrameda points out that women in the coastal villages of Palawan (top seaweed-producing province in Region IV) are greatly involved in “growing, harvesting and drying of seaweed” but the current market structure prohibits them from benefiting more in this industry as they comprise the bottom end of the supply chain structure. According to Barrameda, a seaweed farmer sells seaweed to the barangay traders (male/female controlled) at P22-P23/kg while big traders (male controlled) sell seaweeds at P40-P45/kg. This huge disparity has left the women seaweed farmers in poverty. The workers in the footwear industry, which is also dominated by women, suffer similarly. They too receive less from the system of subcontracting, which promotes home-based production. This kind of informal work set-up gives below minimum wage, and does not provide security of tenure and social protection to the workers (mostly women).

Moreover, because of the NAMA, the workers of these two industries are threatened by foreign exploitation. Since NAMA encourages commercialization of natural resources, it may lead to exploitation and pollution of the aquatic resources, and could mean “less fish, less food, more displacement of indigenous people from their ancestral domain, more migration, more poverty and vulnerability especially for women” (Ofreneo, p.5). On the other hand, the footwear industry is threatened by the proliferation of cheaper shoes from foreign countries. Also, in view of trade liberalization policies, the workers are threatened to be displaced because of the transnational shoe companies’ ability to transfer their money from the Philippines to a country with cheaper labor cost.

In a study, Dr. Batangan mentioned the impact of the TRIPS agreement on Filipinos with HIV/AIDS. He provided statistical data showing that there is an increasing number of women and children who are infected by HIV/AIDS. According to Batangan, the TRIPS agreement, with all its patenting rules, makes antiretrovirals (ARV) (which are manufactured by foreign pharmaceuticals company) inaccessible to Filipinos with HIV/AIDS. Since multinational pharmacuetical companies have a monopoly on the ARV, they demand high prices for these medicines that most Filipinos cannot afford. Considering the number of Filipinos with HIV/AIDS, Dr. Batangan recommends that the government make the ARV accessible to the public through “importation of parallel patented medicines from where they are sold at a lower price or to import patented medicines that have been manufactured abroad under government-use provision” (p.7). He also urges the government to facilitate production of the said medicines.

Alcid discusses the relation between GATS and migration. She specifically examines GATS Mode 4, which consists of services of person to another country. This promotes Filipino skilled workers (including doctors, nurses, accountants, teachers, and other professionals) to work abroad and serve the developed nations, which have the resources to pay for professional services. According to Alcid, in 2005, women comprise 73% of Filipino workers that were hired abroad in jobs like domestic work, care-giving and entertainment. However, these women were given low wages and had to struggle under poor and exploitative working conditions. Moreover, GATS Mode 4 encourages skilled workers to acquire jobs where they are overqualified. With these circumstances, Alcid stresses that Mode 4 is beneficial to rich nations as they enjoy the service of Filipino professionals while developing countries are experiencing scarcity of skilled workers.

Durano and Francisco studied the audiovisual sector (radio, television, film, etc.) in the Philippines. They observed the lack of policies and guidelines that promote culture and unbiased portrayal of women in mass media. They emphasized the need for a national communication policy that would monitor not just the infrastructure aspects of communication but more so, the content that are being broadcast in these audiovisual channels. Durano and Francisco stress that since Filipinos – mostly women, acquire knowledge through mass media, it is necessary to come up with programs that are informative, socially and culturally oriented so that people may be able to understand and participate in issues affecting their daily lives.

Ofreneo summarized the relation of the WTO instruments to the sectors discussed by the other authors. She points out the need for a gender perspective in analyzing trade and development discourses since men and women have different needs. And as trade liberalization mostly affects women, it is necessary to study trade discourses with women’s roles and needs in mind. At the end of her paper, Ofreneo also made recommendations to push the government to rethink its policies on trade liberalization and to integrate the gender issues in the concerns and discourses of civil society groups advocating fair trade.

By Jennalyn S. Baraquio

Published: 11 May 2007

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