November 25, The International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women
November 25 has been marked as the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women by women activists worldwide. This is in commemoration of the brutal murder of the three Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic in 1961. The Mirabal sisters, who were political activists, were a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship in the Dominical Republic then. Since 1981, women's activists have used this platform to gain momentum and solidarity in their struggle against VAW. In 1999, United Nations officially adopted 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
The question we pose today then is – how far have the governments of the United Nations actually gone in eliminating violence against women?
More than a week ago, the governments of Asia Pacific region gathered together for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Pusan, South Korea. One of the central agenda in this meeting is the coming World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong this December. So while state leaders were discussing how to further the trade liberalisation agenda of WTO, Oh Cho-ok, a female South Korean farmer, 40 years old, drank insecticide and killed herself. In her suicide note, she urged South Korean politicians to not pass measures which would further open up her country’s rice markets. “We cannot allow rice imports. We can’t, for the people of our country.”
Oh Cho-ok may not have been directly tortured and killed by the goons of her government, like the Mirabal sisters were. But it is poverty and the dire future ahead of her that pushed her to end her life. Poverty that is brought about by the trade policies of the government. Her last words were addressed not to her loved ones, but to South Korean politicians; her last thoughts were on rice imports. This reminds us of what happened two years ago, when another Korean farmer, Mr. Lee, stabbed himself to death during the 2003 WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico. His last words – ‘WTO kills’. With WTO agreements on agriculture, developing countries are forced to open up their markets, allowing products from developing countries to enter our countries, and compete with the same products that we produce. Our food producers, who enjoy no subsidy or any support from our governments, are left to compete with imported products flowing in from countries with big subsidies from the government, or produced by transnational corporations. This spells death to our local farmers, literally.
WTO kills indeed. And the poverty it causes. And the hunger it breeds.
There are 800 million hungry people in the world. 500 million of them are from the Asian region. The majority of these are women and girl-children. And unfortunately, the hunger numbers are growing.
In Ban Mai Khi, Chaiprakhan, Chiang Mai, the Thai garlic farmers have had tonnes of garlic stocked for months, waiting for buyers which will give them the price that would at least cover the production costs. Ban Mai Khi is known for its good-quality garlic but since garlic from China had been coming into Thailand, local garlic hardly reaches the market; the producers are ending up bankrupt. This will mean hunger and greater indebtedness to the women peasants and their families. Other cash crops in Ban Mai Khi which are facing the same threat are hot chilli and fruits like longan and oranges.
Free trade – that’s the propaganda of our governments. Free trade is the key to development, they say. But this free trade under the WTO and this corporate-led globalisation flows freely only one way.
As of 2001, only 10 agrochemical corporations control 84% of the $30 billion agrochemical market; only six corporations control 98% of the world’s market in genetically modified crops. The same six firms also control 70% of the world’s pesticide market. And 94% of all genetically modified crops grown worldwide were from one company’s germplasm: Monsanto’s. Also, only 10 pharmaceutical companies control an estimated 48% of the $317 billion world market. And recently, as the world, especially here in our part, is seriously getting concerned with the outbreak of bird flu, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is getting excited as he is one of the major stockholders of Gilead Sciences, the California biotech company that owns the rights to Tamiflu, the influenza remedy that’s now the most-sought after drug in the world. Indeed, TNCs and these CEOs are running the show, for their profit, at the expense of our development, and our lives.
So how have our governments been eliminating violence against women?
The impacts of these trade policies imposed by our governments, especially on women, are severe: women's underpaid and unpaid - caring or domestic - labour is exploited, and their access to basic needs like food, shelter, education and health is eroded. As a result, women face increased poverty, hunger, death and violence against women. The policies of the WTO result in generalized poverty and displacement in developing countries through the destruction of livelihoods including local based economies and the environment. The violence associated with displacement, devaluation and disempowerment leads to increased levels of violence against women as: women are forced into unsafe industries where they face increased risks of violence (such as in the sex industries and unregulated garment industries in South-East Asia); are forced to migrate from rural to urban areas or depressed economies to wealthier economies making them more vulnerable to violence; and face increased violence in the home as men take out their frustrations and feelings of being de-masculined through violence. Furthermore, poverty not only causes greater levels of violence against women, but it is violence against women itself.
The governments, through their aggressive push for trade liberalization within WTO agreements, as well as other Free Trade Agreements, are not eliminating violence against women. They further perpetrate violence against women.
More than 10 years ago the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) stated that national policies linked to regional and international agreements must not have an adverse impact on the new and traditional economic activities of women. More than 10 years after Beijing, the women of the world are poorer, more marginalized from the spaces of real power and continue to face violence as result. The WTO strengthens all forms of inequality: between countries in the North and South; between classes, races and ethnic groups; and between women and men.
On this day, we join hands with the women across borders, as we
- denounce the increasing poverty, hunger, unemployment, landlessness and exploitation brought about by the unfair trade policies pushed by the WTO and developed countries.
- reject the presence of multi-national and trans-national corporations in our countries as they dispossess us of our lands, destroy our environment through mining, logging and contamination and deny us our right to livelihood.
- Demand government accountability for the increasing violence against women through the trade liberalising agenda
Women have a right to live without violence!
TNCs and MNCs out of our lives!
Women say ‘no’ to WTO!
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
November 25, 2005
We call on women to join us in our struggles against violence. JOIN OUR CAMPAIGN!
Don’t Globalise Hunger! Assert Women’s Rights to Food Sovereignty!
This December, the WTO will have its 6th Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong. It is imperative that the momentum created in Seattle, in Cancun, and in various national and local actions against WTO and corporate globalisation should be sustained and furthered. Women from the food-producing communities are strengthening their roles in the global movement resisting the transnational profit-oriented forces which create and recreate poverty in our lives. Our main task now is to make them – them who control our markets, our food production, our bodies, our lives - these trans-national corporations, and these governments who act in collusion with these capitalists - we have to make them know that we know who is behind our hunger, our poverty. That is why we’re going to Hong Kong. We will let them know that 10 years is enough for WTO. We will make them listen to us:
as we say NO TO WTO! KONG YEE SAI MAU!
Let us globalize our solidarity! Don’t Globalise hunger! Assert Women’s
Rights to Food Sovereignty!
To join our campaign visit