Etching gender into trade policy in the COMESA region

03 August 2017

Putting gender issues at the heart of trade policy is vital if development is to be inclusive, and training decision makers is a key way to achieve that goal.

Building upon the success of its online course on trade and gender, UNCTAD has broadened the scope of this initiative by tailoring its training for different regions of the globe.

First in line has been the 19-country COMESA, the largest regional economic organization in Africa. Nearly 50 Representatives from COMESA - the Common Market for East and Southern African - have wrapped up their eight-week online course and committed to strengthening the gender perspective in trade policy.

"Together we can make trade policy more gender sensitive, and pave the way for more inclusive prosperity that leaves no one behind", said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.

The objective of the course, which was delivered jointly by UNCTAD's Trade, Gender and Development Programme and COMESA's Division on Gender and Social Affairs, was to share knowledge on how to analyse the nexus between trade and gender and to provide participants with the skills necessary to formulate gender-related policy recommendations.

Graduates said the course has empowered them with knowledge on the relationship between trade and gender - an important consideration for a regional body which promotes commerce across countries whose combined population is about 390 million.

"The course was an eye opener," said Mr. Benjamin Masila, Head of the Information and Resource Center at the COMESA secretariat. "I got to learn and understand gender dimensions in various sectors that I would not have taken note of without this course."

Participants also said the course will help them support gender-responsive policy-making in their respective countries, matching the main goals of the course.

"The course has enabled me to always consider the gender perspective in trade policy formulation, especially with regard to export processing zones," said Ms. Zodwa Mabuza, Coordinator of the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement, which links the economies of COMESA, the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Ms. Nancy Gitonga, Regional Coordinator of the East African Women in Business Platform (EAWiBP), also hailed the course.

"I am now able to identify and analyse a country's economy through a gender lens and asses how gender biases operate and affect women in the multiple roles they play as workers and producers, traders, consumers, users of public service and as taxpayers," she said.

The knowledge acquired will enable participants to ensure that gender considerations are front and centre in their research, teaching, policy-making, advocacy and fieldwork.

The online course for COMESA was accompanied by a new teaching module - Trade and gender linkages: An analysis of COMESA - which complements the existing teaching material with data, case studies and an in-depth analysis of the linkages between trade performance and gender equality in the COMESA region.

The course is part of a capacity-building project on trade and gender funded by the governments of Finland and Sweden.