The impact of World Trade Organization rules on women and men differ according to the socially determined roles the different genders have in the WTO member countries. This differential impact exists even though the wording of the legal texts governing trade regulation is gender-neutral. The effects of WTO accession on women are therefore going to be different than the effects of WTO accession on men.
This does not mean, however, that the effects will always be disadvantageous for women or always advantageous for them. Nor does it mean that accession’s benefits for men will necessarily be disadvantages for women. Rather, as this study tries to underscore, the particular effects of WTO accession on women will depend on the particular context of accession: on the legal and social status of women in the acceding territories, on the type and extent of trade policy reforms undertaken by the government to conform to WTO norms and WTO principles and ultimately, on the readiness of the acceding government to recognize the gendered impacts of accession and support the advantages open to women while addressing any disadvantages that WTO membership threatens to bring through initiatives such as safety net programs.
Finally, this study emphasizes that women within an acceding country will be affected differently depending on their individual positions and natural or acquired capabilities. While accession-induced liberalization may threaten the competitiveness of women in one sector, other women may profit from new employment opportunities or higher wages in a different sector.
The results set forth here do not permit of generalizations related to how accession affects countries at particular levels of development. Whether in transition, developing or least developed, accession can afford benefits or disadvantages to the female population. The likely effects are more similar among those countries with similar social views of women and girls – where females are considered equal to males and given opportunities to participate in the economic sphere, trade liberalization holds more potential than it does for women living in societies where the role of the female in public life is restricted.
Finally, in those societies where women are functionally excluded from public life, the impacts of WTO accession are going to be indirect. Such women will be affected by accession’s impacts on their husbands, sons or fathers, or by the effects liberalization will have on the State’s ability to provide services. While an analysis of the former impacts would substantially change the focus of this study, some comments will be given on the latter effects.
As females are often the main beneficiaries of governmental spending programmes, any changes in these programmes caused by trade could be considered “gendered”. Thus, where government budgets shrink due to an accession-induced reduction in import tariffs and taxes, and where such reductions are not compensated for with other revenue, women and girls may be indirectly disadvantaged by WTO membership. Whether such disadvantages are outweighed by increased personal income or freedoms will depend on the individual’s personal conditions of life.
If the government’s liberalization results in a great increase in imports, on the other hand, the indirect effects of accession may be additional governmental spending on healthcare, education, and basic infrastructure – all of which will improve the living conditions and individual development possibilities of females beyond the direct contribution to economic growth.