Thank you very much for inviting Oxfam to present to the committee today.
Oxfam works in 90 countries around the world to support long-term development and to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, but we're also an advocacy and campaign organization committed to addressing root causes of poverty and inequality. We put women's rights and gender equality at the centre of everything we do, both here at home in our work and in our work in some of the poorest countries on the planet.
The government has taken a very bold step in adopting the feminist international assistance policy. To be consistent, the government also needs to review its trade and diplomatic policies to ensure strong coherence and a true feminist foreign policy. The renegotiation of NAFTA is an opportunity for Canada to support the inclusion of gender equality in the trade agreement so that women and men benefit equally from its provisions.
Women form the majority of the world's poor, and trade is widely recognized as a key tool for poverty reduction, but women workers, producers, and consumers have unique characteristics and face particular constraints. If we want to maximize the gains from trade for women, and also the contribution that women make to a country's economic and trade outcomes, then trade rules, trade agreements, and trade support programs must take into account the sectors where women work, the types of businesses they operate, the goods and services they produce and consume, and the trade and other barriers they face.
The underlying theme of our intervention today is that there needs to be a strong gender analysis in order to ensure that negotiators are able to get the best trade deal. Evidence gathered through a sound gender and poverty analysis, including through the collection of sex-disaggregated data, would improve the knowledge, analysis, and choices of the negotiators, policy advisers, and partners with respect to the impacts and benefits of NAFTA on gender equality. Building on this broad recommendation around gender analysis, we have a couple of specific recommendations, as follows.
First, the proposed gender chapter should be strengthened to maximize its impact. We strongly support the inclusion of a stand-alone gender chapter as a concrete symbol of the importance of gender equality in the NAFTA negotiation and as recognition of the gendered impact of trade.
The gender chapter found in the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement has been highlighted as the model for a similar chapter in the NAFTA agreement. That chapter is a useful entry point and has some great ideas, including support for initiatives such as building women's networks, improving labour standards, supporting the specific needs of women to help them take advantage of the trade agreement, and so on, but the agreement is weak, in that it lacks specificity of what it will achieve and lacks accountability due to the fact that it is completely voluntary.
To strengthen the chapter, it could profit from more concrete requirements and commitments that a NAFTA committee would have to report on. At a minimum, it should require a poverty and social impact analysis or a gender trade impact analysis to be carried out. The analysis would explore the possible gendered impacts and outcomes of the agreement, including looking at gendered value chains analysis. This analysis could lead to a better understanding of where the needs are and could target some of the suggestions made throughout the side agreement. The analysis would be very useful, too, in seeing if things are improving and who is winning and losing as a result of the trade deal. The committee could also ensure that there is adequate monitoring of the commitments.
Second, gender equality objectives should be addressed throughout the agreement, and negotiators need to look at both gender and economic inequality together. Again, as highlighted, the negotiators need to have adequate sex-disaggregated data and a strong gender analysis to understand the gender impacts and benefits of the various elements of the agreement.
While a key issue, it is important that the focus not be solely on issues related to women entrepreneurs and business owners. The labour chapter, for example, is important to review from a gender perspective, given that the vast majority of women work and women are concentrated in the lowest-paid roles with the least job security. In Mexico, for example, women make up the majority of workers in the maquilas. As a result, Mexican women have seen new job opportunities created since the introduction of NAFTA, but under exploitative conditions and with well-documented labour rights abuses occurring in that sector. The current labour provisions in NAFTA have failed women and should be strengthened in ways that would support greater real gains for women in the economy.
Finally, civil society needs more information about the negotiations in order to be able to analyze and contribute to debates and recommendations for the agreement. In particular, to ensure that gender equality is a strong component of the agreement, organizations that have expertise in gender and trade policy-making and negotiations should be included. Women's rights organizations and labour movements that represent women workers should be supported, including through funding, to be able to engage and to continue to analyze the impact on NAFTA.
Lastly, it would be useful to look at specific trade institutions within each country that could be strengthened from a gender perspective to support ongoing monitoring and improvement.