From 29 September to 1 October, sixteen women delegates gathered at WAWU headquarters in Roseau, Dominica, for a workshop on Women and Gender Issues and the Agricultural Sector, an activity part of the IUF sugar and bananas project in the English-speaking Caribbean.
The workshop had two main parts, one dealing with the situation and perspectives of the banana sector, the other with the situation of women in the Dominican society and unions. The contact point is that women comprise a great portion of the banana farmers and farm-workers in the island.
The banana sector in Dominica, as in the English-speaking Caribbean in general, has dramatically shrunk over the past decade and a half, falling from some 66,000 tonnes produced in 1990 to 30,000 in 2007 (FAO estimates). The decline is in part a result of the so-called banana wars, the continuous erosion of their access to markets in the European Union, and competition from other producers. Nonetheless, bananas continue as a key element in the fabric of the Dominica society, with great political relevance, and, notwithstanding its decline, an important source of foreign exchange.
In recent years, Fair Trade arrangements have been negotiated on the banana exports to the EU/UK markets, and many farmers see fair trade as the only way to continue in operation. Earlier this year, the public in Dominica witnessed a series of arguments among several banana groups on how to organize and re-accommodate production to satisfy fair trade markets, which provide remunerative prices as well as the so-called social premium to be used in community-related projects.
For an island economy such as Dominica’s, it was important as well the process of negotiating the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which the EU will sign with different regions of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries. In the case of Cariforum and the Dominican Republic, only the governments of Guyana and Haiti made clear their opposition to signing the EPA (scheduled for mid-October), while the rest of the countries are ready to go with it. The EPA replaces the trade protocols which were integral part of the EU/ACP relations. All these topics on agriculture and trade were part of the IUF/WAWU workshop.
Women issues were touched through different presentations, from the position of women in society and in collective bargaining by unions to the impact of HIV/AIDS on women in Dominica. Despite the important social and economic role that women have in Dominica, they continue facing discriminatory practices such as inequality in the legal system, access to education, being victims of domestic violence, and the like.
The attendance of delegates from St Vincent and Jamaica, in addition to the different background of participants who came from several of the economic sectors where WAWU organises, provided a good basis for discussion and exchange of information.
Frederica Riley (WAWU-Dominica) and Delaine Clarke-Smith (BITU-Jamaica) wrote a full report on the activity, which is available on request. Please send a e-mail to Jorge Chullen from here.
Note of the editor: while this workshop was not related to the sugar sector, it is part of the sugar and bananas project in the English-speaking Caribbean and may help readers to get a more comprehensive view of the regional work done by the IUF.