For example, while a shift in production from low-value staple crops like cassava to higher-value commodities like fruits and vegetables may help a country upgrade agriculture production and develop non-farm activities, the gender ramifications are not straightforward.
Agro-industries may bring new and better job opportunities, with higher wages and better working conditions than traditional farming, but UNCTAD research has shown that women workers in agro-processing are typically segregated into labour-intensive tasks like packaging with limited opportunities for skills development. And the new cash crops may also crowd out small farmers involved in subsistence agriculture, who are mostly women.
The same is true for the clothing industry. A focus on increasing exports tends to lead to more jobs, but it also tends to create new patterns of inequality and vulnerability, with men being assigned to the new managerial, higher-skill jobs.
This means that in the event of a sudden or drastic drop in production, which may result from a shift in trade policy, women will be the first to lose their jobs and will have the most difficulty finding work in another sector or starting a new activity, because of limited skills and savings.
"The only way to avoid these unintended negative gender ramifications is to assess a policy's potential effects beforehand," Dr. Kituyi said.
"Such analysis is difficult but necessary, and UNCTAD is developing a toolbox to help policymakers use data to predict the consequences of trade reforms on women," he said, adding that the methodology may be applied to assess trade impacts on other vulnerable segments of the population, such as the rural population and the elderly.
The toolbox is being developed as part of UNCTAD's program on trade, gender, and development, which was set up to help policymakers look at trade policy from a gender perspective, encourage researchers and professors to include gender issues in their research and teaching, and equip civil society advocates with sound data and analysis.
To examine further how trade policies, export policies in particular, have affected women's work opportunities, UNCTAD is holding a panel discussion on 17 March, during the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women.
The event, organized with Finland and Sweden, and titled "The Impact of the Trade Environment on Women's Employment", will draw on UNCTAD's extensive work and research in countries such as Lesotho, Bhutan, Uruguay and several members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.