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May 10, 2010 | by  | in News |
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Just Women

Trade Aid is currently holding its annual Fair Trade Fortnight, and this year the event is concentrating on promoting the positive impact fair trade is having on disadvantaged women in developing economies.

The United Nations (UN) identified in 2006 that “ending poverty means ending feminised poverty”. Social Watch, an organisation aimed at ensuring commitments to equality and the eradication of poverty are met, backed up this statement. They raised concerns surrounding the current economic recession in a 2009 report, outlining “many of the national Social Watch reports show how women tend to suffer the impact of the crisis disproportionately”. Social Watch said that the economic climate could lead to the “pauperisation” of communities, and that this would have a significant effect on women as they traditionally hold responsibility for the family’s wellbeing.

Trade Aid’s Education Manager Michelia Ward says the report “highlights the critical need for sustainable economic development approaches, such as fair trade, to address the current ecological and economic crisis. It points to the real need to invest in the people (and specifically women) who make and grow the products, providing them with valuable income-generating opportunities, so they can work themselves out of poverty.”

In terms of how fair trade initiatives can combat the disproportional effect of not only the recession, but also traditional patriarchal attitudes towards women, Julia Capon, a Trade Aid spokesperson says “It’s all about how fair trade empowers women.” Capon goes on to explain that many of these women have never directly handled money despite their labour, as all money tends to be handled by the male members of a family. With fair trade organisations ensuring women are paid directly, “Women now have cash in their hands, and they have a say in their family. Women are getting the money, and they have a say about educating their children, especially girls. That is the kind of effect that fair trade has on empowering women, to then empower the future generations as well.”

Capon thinks that the theme they have chosen for the Fair Trade Fortnight—‘Just Women: Empowering Women to Break Free From Poverty’—is also appropriate as “approximately 70 per cent of our purchases are by women, and 70 per cent of our producers are women, especially in the craft area”. Capon believes that beyond empowering women, support of fair trade is essential as it also preserves the culture of developing countries.

“There is a really high percentage of women who have the weaving or pottery skills that were being lost, because they weren’t being paid sufficiently to continue those skills and they might as well have not been working as they were losing money a lot of the time on their crafts.”

Invited by Trade Aid to speak in New Zealand over Fair Trade Fortnight, Meera Bhattarai is founder and executive Director of Nepal’s Association for Craft Producers (ACP). Similar to Trade Aid, ACP is a not-for-profit, fair trade organisation who aim to be a “socially oriented and commercially viable enterprise”, providing design, marketing, management and technical services to low-income Nepalese craft producers, with a specific focus on supporting women.

Ward asserts Meera’s visit is important as it “will go a long way in showing Kiwis’ choice to buy fair trade really does make a difference to disadvantaged women, their families, and to developing communities around the world”.

As a part of her visit to New Zealand, Bhattarai spoke at a fair trade afternoon tea held at the Beehive last week. Hosted by National MP Simon Bridges and ex-Oxfam Chief Executive and Labour MP Phil Twyford, the afternoon tea was well attended, with more than 80 MPs and parliamentary staff present. Ward was “delighted” with the turnout, commenting that the success of “communicating to New Zealanders the critical need for fair trade to ensure producers in developing countries get a fair deal”, is dependent on support from New Zealand’s key decision makers.

Unfortunately, despite an inspiring turnout at the fair trade afternoon tea, it seems unlikely that this show of support will have any effect on dislodging the National Government’s pursuance of further free trade agreements, rather than exploring the avenues of fair trade.

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