The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will disproportionately affect women, yet the voices of women workers have barely been heard in the mainstream media’s discussion of the pact.
NAFTA’s most likely impact, according to the World Bank, will be on multinational corporations operating south of the U.S.-Mexico border and on those who work for them—predominantly women and girls. Multinationals already employ almost half a million people in Mexico, 70 percent to 80 percent of whom are women between the ages of 16 and 25. NAFTA may open up new job opportunities for these women, albeit in industries that pay as little as 40 cents an hour for 14- to 16-hour days, but the freer rein their employers will enjoy is widely expected to decrease what slim protection the women have had against violence and abuse in the workplace.
Similarly, in the United States, the smaller textile and assembly plants, which are particularly likely to close if the U.S.-Mexican border is opened, employ a high concentration of women workers. Women in these U.S. factories tend to be the last hired, most weakly protected workers on the job, as they are in Mexico.
Given the above, it would have made interesting copy to consider the attitudes of women workers toward the pact. But a study of coverage in the New York Times, the L.A. Times and ABC news broadcasts during the week the pact was signed (10/4/92-10/11/92) found only 10 quotes from women in 42 stories.
Four of those quotes were from Carla Hills, the U.S. Special Trade Representative who represented the Bush administration in negotiations. One quote came from Lynn Martin, Bush’s secretary of labor; two more from Bush campaign staffers Mary Matalin and Torie Clarke. The remaining women quoted were businesswomen: the president of a Newport Beach marketing firm that helped Bush on the agreement, and two securities and bonds saleswomen, interviewed by Lydia Chavez in a story in the L.A. Times (10/4/92).
Women workers (and their advocates) were overlooked by all of the outlets studied. They did, however, remain the favorite subject of advertisements aimed at industry, tempting them to relocate south of Texas with promises of cheap, vulnerable, female labor.