Forum Spotlights Problems of Poor Women

By NATALIE OBIKO PEARSON, Associated Press Writer

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.