International Solidarity – Women Working Together Towards A Better World For All
Cape Town, South Africa, 27 and 28 August 2012
At a time of increasing economic, political and social inequalities caused by the global financial crisis, the conservative and neoliberal political response of many governments is exacerbating poverty, marginalisation and injustice for many women: from slowed progress on some Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to the shock of austerity measures.
The goal of gender equality also remains unfulfilled, again with broad negative consequences, given that reaching the MDGs depends so much on women’s empowerment and equal access to education, work, health care and decision-making. Equal pay for work of equal value remains a core issue in the fight for women rights. We must also recognise the unbalanced progress within countries and regions, and the severe inequalities that exist among populations, especially between rural and urban areas.
There are shining examples of social democratic governments around the world that are seeking to eradicate poverty, increase women’s political rights, improve the conditions of rural women in developing countries and distribute financial resources fairly. These governments have a responsibility to share their achievements with others in solidarity, so that others can draw on their example and adapt it to their own circumstances.
Solidarity is the defining shared value of the socialist, labour and social democratic member organisations of the Socialist International Women and underpins its work. It is more important than ever that women and their organisations work together and learn from each other, as it is only by working together that we can make our world a better, more equal and just one for all. Solidarity also means the distribution of wealth and resources not only between regions or states, but also within societies.
‘Working Together in Solidarity to Eradicate Poverty’
The target of the first MDG, to cut extreme poverty and hunger to half of the rate in 1990, has been reached ahead of 2015 despite the international financial crisis, but extreme poverty remains widespread. According to the World Bank, 386 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were affected by extreme poverty in 2008; 284 million people were affected in East Asia and 570 million people in South Asia. In Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), around 70 million people lived in extreme poverty in 2011.
But also in Europe and North America, the gap is widening. In Europe, almost every fourth person is in danger of suffering from poverty and in North America, the poverty rate rose from 13.2% in 2008 to 15.1% in 2011. Much can be learnt from developing countries that do not judge their own country’s success on economic growth alone. They are adopting policies that are raising millions out of poverty by increasing employment, introducing a minimum wage, tackling rampant corruption, and introducing payments to the poorest families, farmers and those who help preserve natural resources. The benefits have been a reduction in childhood malnutrition, a substantial reduction of the number of people living on an income equivalent to $1 a day, and progress towards reducing the gap between the rich and poor.
‘Working Together in Solidarity for Women's Political Rights’
Women continue to be under-represented in legislative bodies and at most levels of decision making with a current average of 20% women in national parliaments worldwide according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Many countries are suffering a backlash.
Mass demonstrations in Tunisia against the references to the position of women in the draft constitution in which women are referred to as complementary instead of equal, are a clear sign of such a backlash. The Arab Spring has so far brought a mixed success for women. The outcome of the parliamentary elections in Egypt saw a lower number of women in parliament than before the revolution. Egypt’s elected but suspended parliament today counts eight women MPs out of a total of 508 – less than 2%, and down from the previous 12% before the revolution. The thirty-three women who have recently been elected to Libya’s General National Congress in the first free elections is a success because under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, only a limited number of women in Libya were actively involved in politics.
The Nordic countries of Europe have traditionally been at the forefront of securing political representation and leadership for women. Some countries in Europe are now extending political quotas into companies and businesses by introducing them for women on corporate boards. These European countries have to work with Latin American, Asian and African women to share such strategies to ensure women are represented in decision-making positions, ministerial posts as well as in parliaments. In addition to quotas, further measures have to be taken in order to improve the political climate as a whole and this way politically empower women on a global scale. The qualities of female leadership are of great value to overcome the current economic crisis. This is an opportunity that should be fully made use of.
The gender quota provision in the statutes of the Socialist International should set a minimum standard for the statutes and structures of the member parties of the Socialist International – be it political mandates or party bodies. Nonetheless, our common goal always has to be to ensure an equal representation between women and men in all decision-making positions, and in legislative, executive and judicial spheres as well as within political parties. Member parties should regularly present reports on gender equality within their own structures to the Socialist International Council or Congress.
‘Working Together in Solidarity to Improve the Working and Social Conditions of Rural Women’
The economic model that many countries have adopted over the past two decades has increased inequalities in the global population. Rural women, who account for over a quarter of the world population and two thirds of the illiterate population, have worse incomes than rural men or urban men and women on almost every count. Millions are responsible for children yet face food scarcity; walk for hours to collect water and fuel; and tackle illness without the necessary resources. They work long days in fields – subject to environmental deterioration and climate change – for a low or no wage. They are particularly vulnerable to the global crisis, such as the current financial one, trying to absorb the impact on their families.
While the situation of rural women in developing countries is alarming, the crisis also intensifies the existing inequalities concerning working conditions of women in so-called developed countries. A growing number of women are employed under insecure and unstable terms, be it in part-time jobs, short-term work contracts or other forms of precarious working conditions, whilst other women are having to be self-employed without social security, and this forces millions of women into economic insecurity.
The Socialist International Women acknowledges the significance of the introduction by the United Nations, of an International Day of Rural Women, first observed on 15 October 2008, to recognise ‘the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’ (UN General Assembly Resolution 62/136, 18 December 2007)
Women's sexual and reproductive rights continue to be violated around the world, in spite of international conventions to protect women's health and bodily integrity. Therefore all women and girls should have access to safe and legal medical services, treatments and assistance as well as education, prevention and awareness rising about HIV/AIDS. Sexual and reproductive rights are basic human rights that contribute towards social, economic and financial development of women and girls.
‘Working Together in Solidarity for a Fair Distribution of Financial Resources’
The response of developed countries to the financial crisis must not be to adopt protectionist, monopolist or unbalanced trade practices. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, finds that 70% of the world’s poorest people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Yet a continuing high level of trade-distorting subsidies and overly complicated or stringent regulations in the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) prevents African and Latin American farmers exporting their produce to developed countries at a fair and reasonable price, while forced to import products from Europe. At the same time, fair wage policy is needed in developed countries to ensure that rising costs for food are not at the expense of those already disadvantaged.
Similarly developing countries with valuable natural resources find that developed countries establish resource extraction monopolies (paying them significantly less for their commodities than they are worth on the open market) devastating, in many cases, essential resources like water or destroying the environment, jeopardising future generations; or a trade imbalance (where a developing country imports far more than it exports), which also hinders its economic development. Companies like Monsanto are misusing patents on agricultural products and genetically modified seeds for their profit to the detriment of the world’s rural population.
The international trading system must be reformed to respond to the needs of the global majority who live in the world's developing countries. Improving access to developed markets on an open and level playing field without restrictive trading practices, while widely implementing fair trade policies to ensure decent working conditions, would go to the heart of alleviating world poverty and improve the lives of millions of people in developing countries.
Therefore Socialist International Women calls on governments and member parties of the Socialist International to:
Develop a shared clear framework upon which to base policies, programmes and development assistance with a specific gender quota to further reduce extreme poverty and hunger among women;
Disseminate widely policies and legislation adopted by governments that successfully tackle poverty, increase gender equality, improve conditions for rural women in developing countries and fairly distribute resources between developing and developed countries and as well as within societies;
Encourage and actively promote networking and alliances between women's organisations in both developed and developing countries in order to give support to women in elected positions; and to develop cooperation on common activities and projects to tackle poverty, increase political equality, improve conditions for rural women in developing countries and fairly distribute resources;
Promote immediate, effective and efficient public policies and legislation to improve the living conditions of rural women in developing countries: transforming agricultural labour into paid work; defining and guaranteeing cover by social security, food and education schemes; and enabling participation in decision-making at economic, political, social and cultural levels;
Tackle precarious working conditions for women, ensure the protection of labour rights by governments, promote collective bargaining and extend the scope of labour legislation to include unprotected jobs in which women are more predominant such as domestic, care, home-based or part-time work. The implementation of equal pay for work of equal value as well as the promotion and implementation of decent work for all are of the utmost importance and
Coordinate action for reform of trade agreements to increase unrestricted access for developing countries to markets in developed countries, acknowledging that governments of developing countries must fulfil their part through respect for human rights and transparent governance while governments in developed countries have to ensure that the socially disadvantaged in society, mainly women, are not denied this access.