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Women's Caucus Statement, 30th April 1999

Women stand here at the United Nations in this 7th Session of the CSD to address this assembly of nations and to condemn the war in Kosovo; there can be no solutions that are centred in the bombing of nations.

We wish to remind ourselves of the energy and hope that led us to Rio; our commitment to work relentlessly to create a healthy and just planet. We remember our defeat in not having a separate and distinct chapter on the military, a failure that will continue to haunt us. Until all of us, women, men, governments and NGOs acknowledge that the consumption and production of the products of the world's most entrenched and destructive industry, the arms industry, ends - there can be no lasting peace and no healthy planet. It is not sufficient to aim to eradicate poverty; we must eradicate the causes of war. This must be our goal for the 21st century.

Let us reflect - In 1992, at the Earth Summit, had someone said that there would be bombing in Europe in 1999, would anyone have believed it? If anyone had said that there would be ethnic cleansing in Europe on the eve of the 21st century, would anyone have believed it? No, how could they - after all, tribalism was assumed to be an African problem.

Women know that ethnic differences, like gender differences, speak to more than the obvious differences of culture, history, and sex. They speak to the way in which societies are organised; and a world that pays lip service to diversity but fails to adequately address the different roles and rights that emanate from such intrinsic differences is a world condemned to violence.

Women the world over are organising to diminish the effects of these differences recognising that our commonalities are greater than our differences. That it is nonsense to premise the gains of the few on the backs of the many.

We know that the world continues to be organised in an increasingly segregated manner in which the mighty trample on the small - and the notion of common but differentiated responsibilities speaks mainly to the lowest terms that can be negotiated. We must question whether the real vulnerability index is to ensure that less is committed to those who have least - an inverse order of needs - and that more is gained by those who already enjoy a disproportionate share of the world's resources. Should we doubt this we only have to reflect on the Barbados Plan of Action - the birthing product of Rio - recalling the clear signal that it sent.... no new and financial resources even for the most vulnerable of all our states. Women know this well, after all poor women are called the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.

Yet even that chilling reality has paled in the years that have followed Rio, as these small island states reel under the weight of the realities of the much-touted "Uruguay Round". The WTO rulings are based in a refusal to acknowledge history, its consequences and its responsibilities - a history of 500 years of externalised financial benefits, that cleansed many of our islands of their people.

These days bananas are dead, sugar is under threat and we are lectured on the rights and wrongs of the market.

We now sit to negotiate the terms of our latest salvation, the new "mono-crop" of the world - Tourism. We have moved from the plantation to the beach; from the reservation to the casino; from the drudge in the kitchen to the seductive native. We have listened to the arguments as to why concerns about the sex trade properly belong in the human rights corridors. Why child labour is a matter for the ILO. What we have not heard is the bold truth of the past seven years... women are under increasing pressure everywhere, not least in the poorest developing countries, whether they are islands or not. Let us pause for a minute and listen -

Have we not heard of the new trade in "white flesh", have we not heard of the increased sex tourism, have we not heard of the survival strategies that women deploy the world over. Women are on the front line - forced to trade their bodies to feed their families.

Have we not heard that the effects of growing loss of markets is not retooling, not new opportunities for competitiveness - but more of the same burdens on women; out-migration by women and a new reality - child-headed households, or non-headed households.

Have we not heard that there have been riots and tensions in many states... as market reforms bite deep and exacerbate ethnic and gender differences? Have we not seen the statistics on increased domestic violence?

Do we not know that history and culture, patterns of consumption and production determine market readiness and market opportunity? It takes real resources over a long time to bring about equity.

Do you hear of the magnificent struggles of women who gave their jewels to save their societies as the "tigers" were laid low?

Is there not a lesson to be learnt from all of this? Women who have not created the problem are the first to commit to its resolution.

There is no magic in the market, save and except for the owners and women do not own the market.

We wish to recall Principle 5 of the Rio Declaration:

"All states and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world."

But Rio was about hope and women have proven that despite our meagre resources, with our deep commitment that we have and do successfully challenge brutal reality. The voluntary initiative that needs to be recognised here is that made by women the world over. We call on this body to take this last opportunity in this century to take bold steps to redress the disparities between nations and within nations; between women and men. Gender cannot be mainstreamed in the absence of justice, life and hope. We can on this body to rediscover the fire of Rio.

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