Making trade work for gender equality: a Q&A with Simonetta Zarrilli

11 December 2017

At WTO's MC11, the UNCTAD expert explains why including the "gender dimension" in trade policy will boost prosperity for all.

Long term analysis of policies to increase growth, create jobs and boost incomes by integrating developing countries into the global trading system shows that they often fail to account for the different roles that women and men play in domestic economies.

This is a mistake, says Simonetta Zarrilli, Chief of the Trade, Gender and Development Section at UNCTAD. In fact, making policies more gender aware would bring better development outcomes to the countries that most need it, she says.

But knowing this is not the same as making it happen: what are the practical things that policymakers can do to make sure that the "gender dimension" is reflected in trade agreements and instruments? UNCTAD's work on this topic provides many of the answers.

Ms. Zarrilli took her message to Buenos Aires where the World Trade Organization (WTO) met for its Eleventh Ministerial Conference.

Q:   Tell us more about UNCTAD's event on gender at MC11. What kind of outcome do you expect?

A:   The event - Making trade work for gender equality: From evidence to action - is meant to discuss practical ways to make trade policies more gender aware, in other words more attuned to the needs of women.

Now that there is more understanding of the impact of trade on women's wellbeing and of gender inequality on trade performance, it is time to discuss practical tools to make trade work for everybody, including women and girls who are often among those left behind.

Q:   How can you ensure that gender-blind trade policies and agreements don't worsen existing gender inequalities?

A:   The strategy is to avoid having gender-blind trade policies in the first place. Some recently signed free trade agreements, for example the Chile-Uruguay and the Canada-Chile agreements, include trade and gender chapters.

A number of WTO members are supporting a Declaration on Trade and Women's Economic Empowerment that will be handed over to the president of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires.

These are two strategies to tackle gender inequality through trade instruments. An additional way is to assess the potential gender impact of a trade reform before it enters into force. UNCTAD has developed an instrument to do so, the Trade and Gender Toolbox.

Q:   Why is it important to ensure policy coherence between trade and other policies?

A:   Trade policy can indeed be used to tackle gender inequality, but it must be developed hand-in-hand with other economic and social policies. For example, upgrading women's education and providing on-the-job training are measures necessary for women to benefit from new opportunities offered by enlarged trade.

The link between gender inequality and trade performance is now well understood so there's every reason for policymakers to act on this knowledge and put in place practical measures.