unctad.org | International Seminar on Moving Towards Gender Sensitisation of Trade Policy
International Seminar on Moving Towards Gender Sensitisation of Trade Policy
New Delhi
25 February 2008

"The impact of trade and globalization on gender in India"
Study prepared by the UNCTAD/DFID/India Project and UNDP
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The universal goal of gender equality is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The cross-cutting and multi-dimensional nature of the challenge of gender equality has generated research on the impact of various policies on gender equality and women´s empowerment. One of the issues that is only beginning to receive international attention, however, is the impact of trade liberalization on gender. Empirical evidence on this is scant. Nevertheless, we do know that trade has gender-related effects. This is not surprising, given that women, like men, participate in various levels of production and trade, whether locally or internationally.
Available empirical evidence suggests a direct link between exports and female employment, especially in the labour-intensive manufacturing sector, where the proportion of women workers tends to be comparatively large. For example, increased exports were associated with increased female employment in such countries as Mauritius, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and the "East Asian Tigers". Moreover, researchers found that industrialization in the newly industrialized economies of Taiwan, Province of China; Hong Kong, China; the Republic of Korea; and Singapore is as much female-led as it is export-led. Conversely, in countries with low levels of trade integration and a dominance of commodity production, the impact of trade on women in the labour market appears less positive. This, for example, is the case in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Thus, the association between trade and women´s empowerment can be positive, but it cannot be assumed to be either automatic or generalized. Providing the details of this association requires in-depth analysis and research. A new study by the UNCTAD/DFID/India Project, in collaboration with UNDP, on the impact of trade and globalization on gender in India is contributing to this gap in our knowledge and understanding.
A number of important findings emerged from this empirical research on India, and I would like to highlight a few of them:
  1. Women are significant stakeholders in the process of trade growth and development. This must be recognized and harnessed by government in order to make globalization more inclusive, with a pro-poor impact. It must also be considered seriously at the international level so that appropriate support measures can be provided to increase opportunities for integrating the gender dimension into trade more beneficially.
  2. Both employment and wages of women have increased in export-oriented sectors that have experienced dynamic export growth. This is evident, for example, in the handicraft, apparel, fisheries and IT sectors, whereas in less export-oriented sectors, earnings have stagnated.
  3. The positive effect of trade expansion on women´s employment and wages has, in turn, improved intra-household dynamics and generated positive development spillovers. Some 69% of people surveyed for the UNCTAD project attributed their improved social standing to positive changes in their economic status resulting from their involvement in expanding export sectors. So wherever female employment opportunities have improved, women have become increasingly empowered. Previous research also shows that women tend to spend a greater proportion of their income then men on education and health, particularly for their children.
  4. If trade can be a positive force for women´s empowerment, the study also shows that it can have adverse effects. Tea and coffee production, for example - which are dominated by plantation production and are labour-intensive - experienced a sharp fall in exports due to other competitive producers in the international market. As a direct result, there was a strong drop in women´s employment in the plantations.
  5. The study also found that female workers in India continue to earn about 30% less than male workers irrespective of industry, region or location. Another worrying trend is the increasing casualization of labour, which particularly affects women. Export-related trade growth often leads to an increase in demand for casual workers, a high percentage of them women. Women´s work is often insecure, temporary or part-time, with little protection and few fringe benefits. The low levels of education and skill formation among female workers confine them mostly to low-paid, unskilled jobs.


Overall, we have yet to see any significant improvement in the real empowerment of women, equitable distribution of household responsibilities, equal pay for work of equal value, and gender balance across occupations. So what are the policy implications of these findings? What can be done to make trade bring development gains to women, their families, the industries they work in, and the country as a whole?
At the national level, the following could be considered:
  1. Women´s groups must be consulted to a greater extent, and in a systematic and structured manner, in the formulation of trade policies and negotiating positions, so as to integrate the gender dimension.
  2. Export-oriented sectors with high female employment should receive particular attention from the government. There may also be a case for giving special consideration to such sectors in international trade agreements, so as to strengthen opportunities for further export expansion and promote gender empowerment in the process.
  3. Conscious efforts by the central and state governments are required to consolidate the share of women in different subsectors. It must be realized that gender issues need to be part of the broader picture of economic reforms.
  4. Women´s education and a supportive work environment are crucial to reaping more benefits from trade liberalization. Highly educated women in the services sectors, for example, find it easier to be hired and receive relatively higher wages. For women in sectors faced with declining exports, learning new skills in dynamically growing export sectors will be important in finding new employment.
At the international level, a major stimulus can also be provided to promote trade growth with a gender dimension. Countries granting trade preferences could, for example, consider deepening these preferences in sectors where a high proportion of women are employed in the exporting country. This would be particularly relevant for GSP schemes.
Countries should also consider gender as an integral part of trade impact assessments of FTA/WTO trade outcomes. This would deepen the understanding of gender-specific effects, particularly of trade policy, and gender-sensitive negotiating strategies could evolve accordingly. There may be a case for granting greater flexibilities to departing from multilateral trade obligations in sectors that employ a high proportion of women. For example, special tax incentives could be extended to enterprises in these sectors in order to encourage exports.
More broadly, there is a need for further research on the linkages between trade performance and gender empowerment. I hope this study can also provide useful ideas about best practices at the national level and development cooperation at the international level to strengthen the participation of women in trade and promote pro-poor growth and development. Women´s empowerment in trade can be a powerful engine of dynamic trade expansion for the entire economy. In this context, allow me to thank the Government of India, especially the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, for its support of the UNCTAD/DFID/India project and the preparation of this study. I also wish to thank DFID for its invaluable support and its emphasis on pro-poor development processes. I further thank UNDP for its own highly useful collaboration on this study.
UNCTAD is pleased to contribute to clarifying the relationship among trade, globalization and gender in India. This is consistent with our longstanding mission to foster international consensus and build national capacities to ensure that trade expansion leads to growth and development for all, and for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups like women in particular. Our contribution to trade and development in the era of globalization will be charted out by our member States at our 12th ministerial conference, to be held in Accra, Ghana, from 20 to 25 April.
Thank you very much.

Quick Links: International seminar (25–27 February 2008)
Access denied. You do not have permission to perform this action or access this resource.

Please wait....