International Bulletin - Spring 1997
World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference
This conference was attended by representatives of Singapore Council of Women's Organizations - PPSEAWA Singapore. They have submitted this report for the Bulletin.
The first World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference was held in Singapore from 9th - 12th Dec. 1996. This was the first time that Singapore had organised such an important international event and of such magnitude. Indeed, it was a very exciting and challenging event which will definitely have a place of pride and honour in the Singapore history. To us it also signified Singapore's coming of age in tbe international arena when it was given the responsibility and privilege to play host to 4,000 foreign dignitaries which comprised Trade Ministers and Senior Officials from 127 member countries, 34 observer countries, 49 observer International Organizations approximately 1,000 journalists and 148 NGO representatives.
No efforts were spared to ensure the smooth and efficient organisation and running of the conference. From the delegates' conference kit to the high technical equipment end support facilities all were very thoroughly planned and provided. For example, in the conference kit, besides the usual stationery paraphernalia and tourist brochure, there were special items such as WTO umbrella, ID card which doubled up as a smart card (S$10- US$7.10 value included ). All delegates including the NGOs were provided with individual electronic mail accounts accessible from 300 computers. Mobile phones and latest BMW cars were also provided to VIP delegates. Like in other international meets, elaborate, high security measures were necessary but Singapore managed to carry out such measures in a quite efficient, non-intrusive manner so that no one felt very much inconvenienced or threatened. The Conference material and papers were just as comprehensively prepared and executed. Apart from the favourable press reports, individual feedback was just as positive and full of accolade.
The Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) was privileged to have four of its Board Members accredited as NGO representatives at this conference. Our participation gave us a rare opportunity to have more in-depth knowledge and understanding of trade issues and its impact and consequences on people especially on the weaker, poorer sector of the population, the women. Exposure to such an international event helped to bring home the message that women's organisations could and should lobby and advocate that women's livelihood, interest and welfare should not be jeopardized and ignored in the process of rapid trade liberalisation and free market access. In addition to attending government plenaries, we also participated in NGO workshops at another venue - i.e the Westin Plaza.
NGOs were given time to make brief statements and comments. The following statement was read over the radio by Mrs. Anamah Tan. It was the joint effort of Mrs. Tan, Mrs. Janet Lee, Ms Ong Lee Wha and Mrs. Chew Ng Hong.
"The Singapore Council of Women's Organisations is pleased to be an accredited NGO participant to the WTO 1st Ministerial Conference in Singapore.
As an umbrella body of 40 women's organisations, we are committed to advance the cause of women.
Therefore we advocate that in the process of trade liberalisation, the needs and interest of women should be regarded just as important as other economic considerations.
Economic development must go hand in hand with social development to ensure that the progress of the nation benefits all.
In Singapore, on the IT front, women are given opportunities for training and skills development. We urge that similar support and opportunities be given to all women who need such technology.
In conclusion we welcome free and open trade amongst nations BUT it should not be at the expense of the poor and vulnerable such as women, who constitute 70% of the world's 1.3 billion poor and the number is increasing."
A workshop was held in conjunction with the WTO on the importance of WTO agreements on women.
The workshop was led by Angela Hale of the Women Working World Wide. It was actively participated in by members of Network Women in Europe, Women's Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) and Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) and others. From the workshops and discussions with fellow participants we learnt that most women workers are in unpaid domestic work or are engaged as small scale entrepreneurs and or the farm. Working in these areas they are usually unprotected by laws and neglected by trade unions. Trade liberalisation and industrialisa-tion would mean more demand for women's labour but how are they being paid and looked after are often neglected. Many of the women in farming, cottage industries and small scale entrepreneurs are facing great difficulties in their means of livelihood. They are unable to compete and are finding themselves pushed out of the informal sector into the formal sector of economic employment for which most instances they are not trained. The contention is that though trade liberalisations have brought about increased women's participation and better living standards , they have not necessarily meant a more equal relationship between men and women. Even at this Conference one can easily see that almost all the economic policy makers are men. Women need to know trade issues and to find forums to voice their needs and concerns. There is also a call for a gender perspective to all trade agreements. This is necessary as it will take into account the inequalities between men and women and their different needs, problems and interest which vary according to division of labour.
Last Modified: June 05, 2010