ActionAid interviewed Kate Lappin, Regional Coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) and something of a megastar in the intellectual world of women and trade, for a quick chat about why trade has such big impact on women’s rights and what we can do to change it. Here’s what we learnt.
1. Our low-cost products depend on the exploitation of women
Many people around the world benefit from low cost products - but not the women working to make them. Women working to produce low cost products have very little bargaining power and very little health and safety protections. Instead of working for a world where women’s labour rights are respected, countries and corporations often treat the exploitation of women as an economic benefit they are to funnel into enlarging their profits.
2. Trade can damage the capacity of government to protect women’s rights
Trade agreements can mean that it is often corporations, not governments, who have the power to decide a country’s economic policies, tax policies and how much money gets collected, as well as spent. When the state can no longer make decisions over their own policies, women’s rights really suffer. It means the state doesn’t have the capacity to fund education, health services, or crucial infrastructure that communities need to protect women’s rights. It also means that when a country experiences an economic downturn, it’s women’s education rates that are reduced and women who are most likely to be forced into migration or other exploitative conditions.
3. Already vulnerable women are the most likely to be impacted by dodgy trade deals
Any communities that are already vulnerable, exploited or marginalized, are more likely to be impacted. This is because we live in a system that privileges people with capital and women have very little of that capital. Indigenous women, women in urban slums, rural women, and migrant women all come from communities that have very little economic wealth and are all the least likely to get their fair share from this economic system.
4. Strong women’s movements are the only way to create the change required
To have bargaining power in trade, you need to have collective strength, and that collective strength needs to be in the form of strong women’s movements. There’s lots of evidence that the only way change has ever happened is when strong women’s movements with actual power and a voice have gained enough sway to influence economic systems, political systems and personal interactions. That means when women campaign together, they change the world together.
5. We need strong women’s alliances across borders
Kate Lappin wants to see a focus on building movements and building solidarity across borders, because globalization can’t be challenged in one country alone. When strong union movements are built in one country, big capital just uproots and takes their business somewhere else. Strong women’s alliances need work in solidarity to confront this economic system – which is impacting people in Australia and around the world, to ensure that we have an equal say in how to bring about a new system; a system that works for everyone.