At MC11, more than 70% of WTO members give political backing to role of women in trade and development

12 December 2017

UNCTAD among authors of framework for devising “gender responsive” trade measures supported by 119 members at World Trade Organization ministerial conference.

Government representatives of 119 members of the World Trade Organization backed a ground-breaking declaration on trade and women’s economic empowerment on Tuesday during the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The declaration, representing 72.5% of WTO members, was presented to WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo and Argentina’s foreign minister Susana Malcorra, president of the conference.

UNCTAD participated in the conception and drafting of the declaration through the Trade Impact Group of the International Gender Champions initiative, and provided extensive support for its adoption.

“Addressing gender inequality and promoting women’s empowerment remains a critical part of UNCTAD's mandate, everyday activities and long-term goals,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said.

“UNCTAD is committed to proposing trade and development policies to tackle different types of inequalities, whether it is inequality between countries, within countries and between different social and demographic groups.”

Women at MC11

Though non-binding, the declaration provides a framework for WTO members to adopt “gender-responsive” trade policies now that the link between promoting women’s participation in economic activity and improved economic performance has been proved.

The declaration aligns WTO members with the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, notably its Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

The declaration says that both developed and developing countries acknowledge that “improving women’s access to opportunities and removing barriers to their participation in national and international economies contributes to sustainable economic development”.

Making trade work for gender equality

Speaking in support of the declaration at an event earlier on 12 December, several ministers agreed that trade policies designed without considering their gender-specific impacts risk magnifying existing gender gaps.

Ministers from Canada, Sweden and Finland shared their experiences of being countries that have put gender equality at the center of their policy making – from having all policy decisions screened through a gender lens, to having shared parental leave for both spouses, to ensuring that both women and men had the same opportunity to participate in rebuilding the economy after periods of turbulence.

“We are all ambassadors of the declaration,” Canada’s international trade minister François-Philippe Champagne said.

The executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean Alicia Barcena said that more data and analysis are necessary to better understand the role of women in the labour market, in value chains and in trade.

This view was echoed by Simonetta Zarrilli who leads UNCTAD's programme on trade and gender.

“By studying the impact of trade liberalization on women in different countries and regions, UNCTAD is now better equipped to formulate recommendations on how to make trade policy more responsive to women's needs and expectations,” Ms. Zarrilli said.

All speakers recognized that e-commerce may provide an effective path for women to break the glass ceiling. However, it is important to ensure that the digital economy operates in the interest of all countries and people, speakers said.

UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant underlined that the purpose of trade is to improve people's life and that establishing the clear links between trade and gender equality make trade fairer and more inclusive.

Tools and know-how

Curbing inequalities is a top priority for the United Nations as a whole, and makes good economic sense.

“When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said. “Closing the gender-gap in employment could add US$12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.”

With a dedicated work programme on trade, gender and development since 2010, UNCTAD works to enhance the capacity of policymakers to etch gender perspectives into trade and other economic policies.

UNCTAD has published country and regional reports on the impact of trade policy on gender equality and on women's wellbeing. These studies highlight the participation of women in the economy and offer countries concrete policy guidance on how trade and other policies can promote gender equality.

The WTO declaration says that its members would share:

  • Experiences of policies and programs to encourage women’s participation in national and international economies

  • Best practices for conducting gender-based analysis of trade policies and for the monitoring of their effects

  • Methods and procedures for collecting gender-disaggregated data, the use of indicators, monitoring and evaluation methodologies, and the analysis of gender-focused statistics related to trade

Members also said they would ensure that the Aid for Trade mechanism supports tools and know-how for analysing, designing and implementing more gender-responsive trade policies.

UNCTAD has already developed a first-of-its-kind teaching package on trade and gender which includes a two-volume publication, a set of multimedia presentations and an online course. Teaching material and online courses focused on specific developing regions have also been developed.

To answer the question implicit in the WTO declaration – what would happen to women if a given trade reform were implemented? – UNCTAD has developed a Trade and Gender Toolbox that enables gender impact assessments of measures to be made.

The Toolbox methodology has already been applied to the economic partnership agreements between the European Union and the East African Community and can be used to assess the gender impacts of any other trade agreement or trade reform in any other country.

The International Gender Champions initiative’s Trade Impact Group, which proposed the declaration, is co-chaired by the International Trade Centre (ITC), Sierra Leone and Iceland.