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World social forum spotlights problems of poor women { January 26 2006 }

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Forum Spotlights Problems of Poor Women

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 26, 2006; 6:31 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Activists at the World Social Forum turned their attention Thursday to obstacles faced by poor women in Latin America, whom they called the primary, and often unheard, victims of globalization.

Several women's rights groups said free trade is further undermining the position of women in a region where machismo is entrenched, domestic violence is a problem and governments often take hard-line stances against abortion.

Some argued that open-market policies have hurt Latin American economic sectors, such as agriculture, that tend to employ more women than men.

"Poor women are not the same as poor men," said activist Francini Mestrun at an event organized by the Brazil-based Latin American Network of Women Transforming the Economy.

Rosana Heringer, a coordinator in Brazil for ActionAid International, said water privatization _ a trend that has caused violent protests in Bolivia and Guatemala _ especially affects women, who often are responsible for finding water in poor communities not served by for-profit utilities.

Latin American and Caribbean countries also have increasingly turned to tourism as a source of income, spawning a booming sex trade that has turned the trafficking of women into a profitable crime, some leading activists said.

Others criticized the growth of part-time jobs that they argued have given companies an excuse to strip women of health care and other benefits.

Concepcion La Agua, a 45-year-old indigenous leader from Ecuador, said the region's women face diverse problems that all are rooted in the mentality that "we are only good for having children, for being maids in the house and for being servile in the home."

Juana Vasquez, 61, a Maya Sacapulteca woman from Guatemala, warned against blaming the problem on globalization or other outside influences, saying Latin America has to face up to what she called endemic abuse of women.

Participants at the six-day conference, which has drawn more than 60,000 people from around the world, also called for U.N. peacekeepers to leave Haiti, demanded poor countries' debt be forgiven and backed Cuban leader Fidel Castro's proposal for a permanent "anti-terrorism" tribunal to battle alleged U.S. abuses against poor countries.

2006 The Associated Press

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