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Women On Standby: Call Girls of the Global Market”


Hearing of the Alternative Economic Summit
to the G7/8 Summit
June 1999 Cologne
Convened and organised by the NGO Womens Forum
German Platform of Women in Development Europe (WIDE)
in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation
and the German Welthungerhilfe


Published by NGO Womens Forum
Moserstr. 10
D-70182 Stuttgart, Germany
phone/fax: +49-711-2394124
Acct. no.: 521410508, Postbank Köln, bank code 370 100 50

The German brochure  (64 pgs, 18 photographs) can be ordered from:

Heinrich Böll Foundation
Hackesche Höfe
Rosenthaler Str. 40/41
D-10178 Berlin

Editor: Bettina Musiolek

Translation: Alain Kessi, Bettina Musiolek, Bart Plantenga, Harald Sterly



1. Call Centre Teleworkers: Reality of women's’ labour market of the future”

Two national cases for trade union resistance

  1. Sabine Morgenroth,Trade union HBV (trade, banks, insurance companies)
  2. Karen Dowling,Communications Workers Union, Ireland

Exkurs Andrea Reischies, Call Centers in North Rhine-Westfalia

2. Women in Unprotected Labour Situations  Organised resistance in South Africa

          Birgit Morgenrath

3. Highly Qualified Women: Typical barriers in the labour market and the possibilities for defiance or intervention

  1. Bettina Musiolek, Socio-economist and mother
  2. Karoline Hoffmann, Association of Female Employees

Exkurs Elisabeth Stiefel Economic and social rights of women

4. Eastern European Women Forced Into Prostitution

Support services for the female victims of trafficking in women in Germany 

  1. The case of Anna: Eva Doffiné, Advisor, SOLWODI (Solidarity With Women In Distress)
  2. Sr. Lea Ackermann, Founder and chairwoman, SOLWODI

          Ulrike Wiemker, Amnesty for women

5. Women as producers and consumers of apparel: women's labor in the global fashion market  – Clean Cothes Campaign

  1. Emilia Yanti Siahaan, Seamstress, activist
  2. Renate Huppertz,  Clean Cothes Campaign

Exkurs Henrike Henschen, "Fit for Fair" an initiative to improve working conditions in the sportswear industry

Press Commentary

Christa Wichterich: Women between resistance and alternatives

Sabine Keller: “Women on Standby – Call Girls of the global Market”


Mission statement and background for a hearing concerning typical situations of women's everyday life and labor in this age defined by globalisation

"Women on Standby: Call Girls of the Global Market"

The NGO Women's Forum was founded in 1990 as a network of women in development organisations. Since then the perspective has been directed towards the situation of women in global contexts. This also applies to the working group, Women and Economy, in the NGO Women’s Forum, which has been studying the ecological and social conditions of the global garment industry and were among the founding members of the German chapter of the Clean Clothes Campaign. Recently, the women in this working group concerned themselves with the demand for and implementation of women’s social and economic human rights. This was the perspective which the group contributed to the discussion regarding the MAI - the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. It was well received and generated a great number of responses in 1998. This, in turn, led to our efforts in calling attention to the status of call centre teleworkers  (in the employ of banks, corporations, and insurance companies) and offer telephone services worldwide and, in the process, undermine the rights of established workers in these sectors.

When the G7/8-summit first approached, a broad coalition of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs),  a number of political party-related and labour-related groups responded by organising their own Alternative Economic Summit to the Cologne G7/8-Summit. The NGO Women’s Forum advocated the concept of a hearing and worked towards its actualization.

We agreed that in the course of the Forum we would not be able to rely on other groups to deal with the specific issues that concerned us, and in a way we thought that this was desirable. The intention of the alternative summit was to show how women work and how they get things done in the worldwide context of structural adjustment and globalisation. All over the world the women’s social and economic rights are being violated. The hard life of a call girl (prostitute) served as an ideal metaphor for what today is being demanded and expected of women — total flexibility and  around-the-clock availability.

We wanted to invite women from different regions of the world who could describe their own situations and initiatives for resistance. However, we did not want to limit the discussions to just the South because the effects of globalisation and structural adjustment have come to the 'developed North' as well. For instance, we have observed the increased emergence of shadow economies and unprotected employment conditions in the North. And, consequently, we notice that women  everywhere face similar problems — be it in the South, North, East or West. This also applies to other work situations such as those of highly qualified women who experience a  'career decline' as a foregone conclusion more than ever. In other words, it was necessary to overcome the traditional North-South-dichotomy.

Five typical life and work situations were presented in 2 sections: in the first section, women reported on their current situations. While the second section was concerned with practical alternatives, escape options, and counter strategies. Our hearing was intended to move beyond mere abstract descriptions of conflicts and problems to ultimately make their interrelationships visible. It was essential that the participants and audience members fully comprehended the processes and developments in the contexts of their own experiences to the point that they would be spurred to active intervention.

To allow us and our international guests to reach a broader audience, the hearings were also presented in socio-cultural centres in both Hamburg and Bochum. Birgit Dederichs-Bain moderated the hearing in Cologne. Baerbel Hoegner of Cologne took the photographs in the documentation brochure.

The following women presented details of their life and labor situations (the locations where the respective speakers spoke appear in parentheses. Those with no cities in parentheses spoke in all three cities — Hamburg, Bochum, Cologne):

1. The Call Center:

The reality of the women's “labour market of the future” — two national cases for trade union resistance

A        Sabine Morgenroth, HBV, a trade union in the trade, banking, and insurance sectors  (Bochum and Cologne)

          Annette Falkenberg, HBV (Hamburg)

B        Karen Dowling, Communications Workers Union, Ireland

2.       The Shadow economy:

Everyday precarious employment opportunities for migrant women in Germany  — organised resistance in South Africa

A        Nebahat Kazilci, nurse

B        Felicia Qawekazi Ngewu, survivalist or “shadow economy worker”, SEWU/Self-employed Women's Union, South Africa

3.       Highly qualified women:

Typical labour market barriers and possible responses and countermeasures

A        Bettina Musiolek, socio-economist and mother

B        Karoline Hoffmann, Association of Female Employees

4.       Forced prostitution:

Eastern European Examples — advisory and lobbying organisations who assist victims of trafficking in women in Germany

A        Eva Doffiné, Solwodi (Solidarity with women in distress), Hirzenach (in Cologne),

          Irena Stojanova, amnesty for women (in Hamburg)

B        Sr. Lea Ackermann, Solwodi, Hirzenach (in Cologne),

          Ulrike Wiemker, amnesty for women (in Hamburg)

5.       Women as apparel producers and consumers

Women’s work in the global fashion market  – Clean Cothes Campaign, established to improve working conditions in the garment industry

A        Emilia Yanti Siahaan, seamstress, chairwoman of an Indonesian trade union

B        Renate Huppertz, Clean Cothes Campaign (in Cologne)

          Heike Koch, Clean Cothes Campaign  (in Bochum)

Baerbel Fuenfsinn, Clean Cothes Campaign (in Hamburg)

A performance by the Brazilian street pantomime-theatre group, Loucas De Pedra Lilas, graced the hearings, providing both food for thought and emotional  uplift. The “Lilac Madwomen” performed their play, “The Value of Gold” in 3 acts during intermissions. The play deals with the social value of the domestic work in which the majority of Brazil’s paid female labour is employed. This labour is simultaneously — and not by coincidence — the least respected type of labour. The play is based on the investigations of the domestic workers' union in Recife, one of the oldest trade unions in Brasil.

The conference booklet serves as documentation of the summit. However, some articles in this booklet differ from the speeches as presented during the hearings, while others offer additional background information, further discussions, contact addresses, and suggested reading on the respective issues. The booklet also included tributes and dedications.

We are grateful to Katja Windt and Sonja Schneider for their active assistance in the preparation and realization of the hearings. Given the unavoidable confusion, the cooperation of Petra König, from Werkstatt 3 in Hamburg, and Dagmar Wolf, from the Bahnhof Langendreer in Bochum, was invaluable. We would also like to thank both of them for their wonderful hospitality on behalf of our international guests. Edelgard Abram, from the United Protestant Mission in Wuppertal, contributed a great deal to the success of the hearing with her assistance, experience, and translations for the Indonesian guest throughout her stay. We must also thank Elke Schäfter, from the Aktionsgemeinschaft Solidarische Welt in Berlin, for her help in organising the tour of the "Loucas” with us. Although a first of a kind for us, this joint presentation during the Alternative Summit was a success. We also thank the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the German Welthungerhilfe for their financial support.


Working Group Women and Economy

Birgit Dederichs-Bain

Jutta Manecke

Bettina Musiolek

Andrea Reischies

Beate Schmidt-Behlau

Elisabeth Stiefel

Christa Wichterich

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