unctad.org | Gender and trade spotlighted at UN Commission on Status of Women
Gender and trade spotlighted at UN Commission on Status of Women
15 March 2019
CSW 2019
An UNCTAD and Gender Trade Coalition event at the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women called for more gender fairness in trade policy.


Trade policies are not gender neutral and can affect men and women differently due to the distinct roles each plays in our economies and societies, UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said on 13 March at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Ms. Durant was speaking at an event her organization held with the newly-formed Gender and Trade Coalition during the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women convening at the UN from 11 to 22 March.

"If trade policies are designed without taking into account their gender-specific outcomes, these policies risk magnifying existing gender inequalities instead of alleviating them", Ms. Durant said.

UN Commission on Status of Women

For example, trade integration policies in the East African Community may have helped create employment opportunities for women in services (though agriculture is still the main employer), but the new jobs sit at the bottom of the career ladder.

“White-collar tasks” and higher levels of responsibility and decision-making are still out of reach for women, Ms. Durant said. UNCTAD analysis of manufacturing in the Southern African Development Community and Mercosur reached similar conclusions.

Avoiding such outcomes requires an assessment of the potential gender impacts of a trade agreement before negotiations conclude.

“Such an assessment could help guide negotiations towards a more gender-sensitive outcome,” she said, adding that UNCTAD’s Trade and Gender Toolbox provides a methodology for these types of evaluations.

Inclusive trade talks

Equally important as “ex-ante” gender assessments would be to make trade talks more inclusive, said Sheba Tejani from The New School university in NYC.

"Trade negotiations are opaque. Civil society participates too little and is involved too late in the process," Ms. Tejani said, recommending national mechanisms to ensure trade talks include voices from a broad spectrum of civil society actors.

Speakers agreed, highlighting that women’s full inclusion in the economy is above all about guaranteeing human rights – not promoting “smart economics”.

The discussion, moderated by Women@TheTable founder Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, highlighted the effect civil society organizations, especially women’s groups, have had on getting gender issues into regional integration policies in Mercosur, even though they weren’t included in treaties that set up the South American trade bloc.

And the South Centre’s Mariama Williams recalled that feminist economists have been looking at the “trade and gender nexus” for more than 25 years, long before being picked up at the policy level.

"The analytical case has been taken on board by the institutions. Now it is crucial to ensure that the policy initiatives are the right ones," Ms. Williams said.

Don’t skip chapters

Speakers agreed that including trade and gender chapters in trade agreements was a step in the right direction, but warned the impact could be watered down if other chapters set up rules that undermine women's empowerment — for instance, if the investment chapter limits their access to essential services. 

They also highlighted the data obstacle, saying the lack of internationally coherent statistics linking trade and gender and the limited availability of qualitative data will pose a major challenge to assessing the gender impacts of trade measures.


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