unctad.org | Open trade and its effects on women's job opportunities in Cameroon -- Q&A with Simone Kuete, Ministry of Trade of Cameroon
Open trade and its effects on women's job opportunities in Cameroon -- Q&A with Simone Kuete, Ministry of Trade of Cameroon
08 March 2017
How has liberalizing trade in Cameroon affected job opportunities and pay for women? On International Women's Day on 8 March, we sat down with Simone Nadège Assah Kuete, an officer with Cameroon's Ministry of Trade who has worked with UNCTAD's Virtual Institute, and its Trade, Gender and Development Programme, to find out.

Q: Why did you decide to research the issue of trade openness and its effect on women's work opportunities and pay?

A: In 2015, I took an UNCTAD online course on trade and gender that opened my eyes to how trade policies can affect men and women differently.

It was the first time I had heard about gender-blind trade policy and how trade reforms are too often done without considering the possible effects on different parts of the population, especially women.

The course got me thinking about Cameroon's own experience with trade liberalization, which started in the 1990s, and I realized that not enough research had been done on how policies aimed at opening trade, such as lowering import tariff rates, have affected women.

I then attended an UNCTAD workshop in 2015 on how to conduct empirical research on trade and gender issues. At the workshop, I learned about the opportunity to apply for a mentored research project with UNCTAD. I sent in my proposal and it was selected.

Q: Why did you decide to look at the specific issues of work opportunities and pay?

A: Because if we're talking about women's empowerment, we need to talk about economic opportunity. And that discussion should focus on jobs and wages. Don't forget that, globally, 70% of people living in extreme poverty are women. 

We lack empirical research on how more open trade policies have affected women's job opportunities and the gender wage gap, so I thought it was important for me to take advantage of the opportunity to do research with UNCTAD, and to look specifically at those two issues.

Simone's report, "How Does Trade Openness Affect Women's Job Opportunities and Earnings in Cameroon?", from the Virtual Institute's website, along with two other research projects completed as part of UNCTAD's Trade, Gender and Development Programme.

Q: What does your research suggest?

A: That the glass is half full. We found that openness to trade has not led to an increase in job opportunities for women. However, it does seem to have led to better wages, slightly narrowing the gender pay gap in the three sectors we looked at: the agroindustry, and the clothing and shoe industries.

I say "we" because, in addition to an UNCTAD mentor, the research was done with a colleague from the Ministry of Economy, Belmondo Tanankem Voufo.

Q: How did you come to these conclusions?

A: We used employment and trade data from the National Institute of Statistics for the period 2005- 2010 and compared the evolution of trade openness indicators and women's employment in the three chosen sectors. Then we used wage equations for men and women employed in those sectors and used economic modelling to see whether and how exposure to trade openness could have affected their wages. The sectors analyzed were chosen because these are the industries in which women have the highest levels of employment.

The openness indicators used were import penetration, export intensity and trade share. According to our analysis, trade openness hadn't led to the expansion of exports in the three sectors, nor did we see an increase in women's share of employment in the sectors. In fact, we saw a slight decrease in women's employment share in the agro- industry. However, based on the economic modelling that we did, trade openness seems to have narrowed the wage gap between men and women in these sectors because it seems to have led to a bigger increase in earnings for women than for men. But we should be cautious in interpreting the results and keep in mind that we're working in the informal sector -- where women are most employed -- and therefore dealing with imperfect data.

Q: Why do you think that trade openness has not brought more job opportunities in those sectors?

A: Because women lack the necessary tools to take advantage of the opportunities that have come, specifically a lack of access to land and credit, and a lack of access to skills training. This is especially true for agriculture. For the clothing and shoe industries, the real challenge is that women manufacturers lack the certifications, which also require capital, to meet the standards that would allow them to take advantage of trade preferences like the African Growth and Opportunity Act or trade agreements like the Economic Partnership Agreement.

Q: So what is the main takeaway from your research?

A: That polices aimed at opening a country's economy to trade need to be coupled with policies aimed at resolving the daily constraints that women face in the economy, in particular the lack of access to land, capital and technical skills training.

That's why we recommend providing technical training to women in the industries most affected by trade liberalization, facilitating access to productive resources such as micro-credit and land, and establishing mechanisms that facilitate the move from the informal to the formal sector.

Q: Have any of these recommendations been taken up by the Ministry of Trade?

A: They have. Earlier this year the ministry organized a workshop for 350 women in Ayos, a town near Yaoundé. These women work in the informal agroindustry, mainly with cocoa, plantains and traditional whiskey, and the training focused on helping them organize themselves better and move from the informal to the formal sector.

Right now we're working on a follow-up workshop that would help them improve the quality of their products and align them with the international standards they must meet to sell to foreign markets.

Q: What is your latest research project?

A: Right now I'm researching the impact of migration on the gender wage gap in Cameroon.

More and more people are leaving Cameroon to work elsewhere and I think it's important for policy makers to understand how this is affecting the economic opportunities of those, especially women, receiving remittances back home. Are they using the remittances as productive capital or just relying on them for consumption?

My work with UNCTAD has helped me understand why it's so important to always look at trade policy thorough a gender lens. And it gave me the empirical research and data analysis skills necessary to do my own research work on trade and gender.


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