unctad.org | Three studies on women and trade show potential benefits from gender sensitivity in trade policy
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Three studies on women and trade show potential benefits from gender sensitivity in trade policy


Reviews of situations in Africa, East Africa, and India to inform UNCTAD XII deliberations on "social and gender dimensions" of globalization
Geneva, 2 April 2008 — Using trade to reduce poverty in the developing world requires freeing women from persistent constraints regarding employment, pay, entrepreneurship and access to business financing, three UNCTAD-commissioned reports suggest.


01 April 2008

The studies will contribute to debate at the 20-25 April UNCTAD XII conference to be held in Accra, Ghana. In particular, an April 22 roundtable will review the topic of "globalization, development, and poverty reduction: their social and gender dimensions." The three studies also are expected to help developing countries design and implement national trade policies and to bolster international solidarity efforts to strengthen the contribution of trade to the empowerment of women.

The overall theme of UNCTAD XII, "addressing the opportunities and challenges of globalization for development," reflects concerns that world economic growth is not extending its benefits to all. Research shows strong links between women´s rights and well-being and poverty reduction and rising family living standards, including through trade.

Mainstreaming gender into trade and development strategies The case of East Africa:, a study by Jacqueline Maleko, concludes that despite some positive developments brought about by structural adjustment programmes and trade liberalization in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, poverty remains widespread in the region and is particularly prevalent among women. Among the report´s recommendations to redress the situation are that women´s access to credit be enhanced; that other steps be taken to create an enabling business environment for women; and that governments undertake "gender sensitive initiatives that address existing gaps" in economic and trade policies.

Mainstreaming gender into trade and development strategies in Africa, by Sylvia Maria Booth, finds that constraints on African women, such as a lack of access to financing and other resources, can mean they are not as able as men are to seize the opportunities provided by the ongoing expansion of international trade. Empowering women will help them as well as boost the development of national economies, the report contends. To create a "win-win" situation for women and African countries – defined as "high growth, low gender inequality" – women should be able to participate equally at all levels of decision making and governments should show strong political will by applying principles of gender equality to their economies and trade regimes, the report says.

Impact of trade and globalization on gender in India, by K.P. Sunny and Arundhati Chattopadhyay, reviews the state of trade and gender issues following India´s economic reforms, liberalization and rapid economic growth of recent years. Ten economic sectors with relatively high rates of women´s labour participation were examined. These included: employment at tea, coffee and rubber plantations; in cashew processing, horticulture, dairying and chilli processing; in textiles and clothing; in handicrafts; and in fisheries and other businesses related to marine products.

The study led to the production of four film documentaries; "Karmayogini(1) : The Indian women worker in the age of globalization"; "Karmayogini: Threads of silk and gold"; "Karmayogini: Village of looms"; and "Karmayogini: Gold of the sea." The films are part of an effort to raise awareness and disseminate the findings of the study to a wider audience.

Among the report´s findings are that women´s employment and wages have increased in export-oriented sectors in India that have enjoyed high rates of growth. Women in those sectors have seen their decision-making power and economic conditions improve. Conversely, women have borne the brunt of employment reductions in declining export industries. Trade-related growth also has led to an increase in informal employment, with a high percentage of the workers being women. Women in these informal jobs are especially vulnerable to layoffs if demand declines, and are subjected to poor wages and working conditions. Although income has improved wherever trade and globalization have positively affected the Indian labour market, the study notes, male workers tend to earn more than women. Overall, there has yet to be a notable improvement in empowerment for women, in equitable distribution of household responsibilities, in equal pay for work of equal value or in gender balance across occupations.

The Indian study was introduced at an international conference on "Moving towards gender sensitization of trade policy" held in New Delhi from 25 to 27 February. It was produced under the Project on Strategies and Preparedness for Trade and Globalization in India of UNCTAD, the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The two African studies were produced for UNCTAD under the combined sponsorship of the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme to African Countries (JITAP) and the Regional Programme on Trade Capacity Building in Sub-Saharan Africa financed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


1. A Hindi word denoting a person dedicated to working.

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