Improving statistics on gender and trade in developing countries

30 August 2023

UNCTAD has published new guidelines to collect data to help policymakers tackle gender inequalities in trade.

A woman small business owner in a street market in Nairobi, Kenya.
Default image copyright and description

© Shutterstock/Fresnel | A woman small business owner in a street market in Nairobi, Kenya.

When it comes to understanding and fostering women’s economic empowerment, measuring the gender dimension of trade has emerged as an increasingly important endeavour.

But for a long time, the lack of data on gender equality in international trade has posed a bottleneck, hampering countries’ abilities to apply the gender lens needed to design policies that equally empower women and men.

To bridge this gap, UNCTAD in 2018 began developing a framework to help countries link existing national statistical data to assess gender in trade. The process, called “microdata linking”, offers a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to creating new one-off surveys.

The framework has been tested by half a dozen countries, and the methodology is now outlined in UNCTAD’s newly published guidelines for measurement of gender-in-trade statistics, aimed at helping national statistical offices enhance data to inform trade policy development.

“Today’s increasingly complex data needs require interoperable data systems to help derive new insights from the data we have,” said Anu Peltola, who leads statistics work at UNCTAD.

“This is especially important in developing countries where resources are scarce. We cannot afford to leave data unused,” Ms. Peltola added.

Pilots lay bare persisting gender gap in trade

The guidelines were developed as part of a joint project on data and statistics for more gender-responsive trade policies in Africa, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, in which UNCTAD collaborated with the UN’s regional economic commissions for Africa and Europe.

Cameroon, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Senegal and Zimbabwe piloted UNCTAD’s microdata linking methodology and compiled a set of new experimental, sex-disaggregated indicators measuring employment, wages and business ownership.

The results in all six pilot countries reaffirmed gender gaps in favor of men but also revealed many differences across countries.

Georgia and Kenya presented their findings and lessons learned on 30 August at a session of the 9th UN Global Forum on Gender Statistics.

Georgia: Data-driven policymaking to bolster women traders

In Georgia, the results of microdata linking showed fewer women employed in trading enterprises compared to men, with women earning 30% to 35% less.

Meanwhile, the ownership analysis indicated that the number of men owning businesses was about nine times higher than women for businesses that import and export, five times higher for those who only import, and three times more for exporters.

“Gender aspects of trade statistics become very relevant to addressing issues related to welfare and equality. There’s high interest from state institutions, international partners and non-governmental organizations,” said Gogita Todradze, executive director of Georgia’s National Statistics Office.

Drawing on these insights, Georgia plans to include gender-in-trade data in the statistics it regularly produces. The aim is to help government officials design policies that encourage women entrepreneurship, as well as increase job opportunities and wages for women in trade.

Kenya: Government-wide cooperation is key to leveraging existing data

Kenya, another pilot country, credited microdata linking for saving resources, while underscoring the need for cooperation within the government. The statistical data needed for this methodology may come from several different agencies.

For example, Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) does not have access to trade microdata due to the country’s confidentiality policies.

Therefore, cooperation with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) was necessary to link data from the authority’s customs database to its administrative tax data.

Once the microdata linking was complete, the KRA – in keeping with data privacy protocols – anonymized the dataset before handing it over to KNBS for analysis.

Similar to the experience in Georgia, the pilot in Kenya provided insights into gender disparities in trade.

It found that across Kenyan trading companies, men employees accounted for about 65% of the total employees. And men on average were paid 21% to 27% more than women.

Additionally, men accounted for 72% of the total number of owners of trading companies.

“These indicators can inform gender-responsive policymaking by identifying challenges and opportunities to promote gender-inclusive value chains,” said Cynthia Chelimo, who works for Kenya’s State Department for Trade.