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Women work to promote a just global economy

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Summary of story from San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 2011

Female leaders in business, government and civil society have gathered in San Francisco this week for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation regional meeting, a lead-up to November’s annual summit in Hawaii.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, among others, are exploring ways of making women a more critical force in shaping the direction of this regional trading bloc.

The belief is that if more women are involved in legislation and policy around farming, then community and environmental issues might be prioritised over simple profit.

Women across the region, from the Philippines to California, are fighting for a local economy that ensures sustainable livelihood for women and their families.

In the southern Philippines, a group of indigenous female farmers have opened their own organic produce store. However, they are fighting an uphill battle with a nearby agricultural plantation which uses harmful aerial pesticides.

Across the globe in the US, two young female farmers have set-up Soil Sisters, a collective support group for like minded people.

Yet they tell a similar story of being invisible leaders: “It’s basically a global issue of women not being in roles of leadership, and this affects everything from ‘family values’ to farming. We make decisions that value quality of life and long-term sustainability to the environment and human relationships over profit.”

At last year’s summit in Yokohama, Japan, APEC members committed to taking “concrete steps toward realising a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific and reducing tariffs on all imports, including agricultural products”.

While the rhetoric of reducing trade barriers sounds good, there are potentially harmful consequences of liberalizing trade, particularly the impact on small farmers.

In the case of the Filipino female farmers, their micro-businesses are threatened by the takeover of communal land for commercial cultivation of agrifuels and the influx of cheap food imports produced on factory farms.

For American female farmers, the reality is, unfortunately, not that different. In 2002, women operated only five per cent of US commercial farms; by 2007, they controlled 30.2 per cent.

Yet even with this dramatic shift in farming practice, California female farmers – who, like their Filipina sisters, tend to operate small, environmentally conscious, organic farms – are hardly represented in national or international level agricultural policy.

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