COVID-19 has not held back participants from 68 countries from gaining new skills on developing gender-responsive trade policies.
A gender lens on trade policy is crucial if people are to influence and change policy from within to ensure women and men benefit equally. An UNCTAD course aims to be the catalyst for just this kind of education.
UNCTAD’s seven-week online course on trade and gender kicked off in late March with 231 stakeholders – 165 women and 66 men –from 68 countries participating.
The goal is to equip participants – policymakers, academics and representatives of civil society – with the knowledge needed to develop gender-responsive trade and development policies that match their countries' needs.
“As with everything, making trade policy more gender-responsive starts with sound knowledge of the problem and the application of best practices before you can deliver real change,” said Simonetta Zarrilli UNCTAD’s gender and trade head.
“This is why the course attracts so much attention. People need to have a better grasp of the issue before putting in place policies that respond to women’s trade needs.”
Trade is not ‘gender neutral’
For decades, the conventional wisdom has been that trade is "gender neutral" since rules equally apply to women and men. But recently, there has been increasing recognition that trade impacts vary for different people and segments of society.
There is a two-way relationship between trade and gender. On the one hand, trade outcomes vary by gender, in turn impinging on women’s economic empowerment and well-being. On the other hand, gender inequalities affect trade strategies for competitiveness, export performance and trade policy effects.
Understanding these impacts and putting in place policies that respond to them remain a relatively new area of work, where skills are not yet fully developed. The course is thus a forerunner.
“I am thrilled to begin and learn from you all. Thank you for the effort you have put in making this course happen. It is highly appreciated!” said Sara Ashour, project associate at the International Labour Organization’s office in Cairo, Egypt.
Ceren Deniz Turkmen, foreign trade assistant specialist at the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Turkey said: “I am glad to be taking part in this course and being in this network of brilliant people. Looking forward to proceeding further.”
The course is also multilingual now, opening it up to more people and countries, thanks to the support of Finland, which funded the development of the course in English, French and Spanish.
Participants in the English and Spanish courses also have the possibility of completing an optional module focused on the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) in an extra week of learning.
The course is also providing the opportunity to strengthen links between UNCTAD and other United Nations departments.
“It is a real pleasure to take this course. My team conducts several studies and conferences on trade and gender, but I still want to learn more about this important topic,” said Nanno Mulder, who works for the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile.
Started in 2015, this unique capacity-building tool has so far reached over 900 stakeholders and recorded a high-level of satisfaction, with half of the participants reporting that the course has exceeded their expectations and the other half stating that it has fully met them.
"We are glad to be able to strengthen the understanding of the complex links between trade and gender through our course," said Ms. Zarrilli, who is leading the UNCTAD team running the course.
"In recent years, gender chapters have been included in trade agreements. Trade negotiators, especially those from developing countries, need to be well equipped to deal with this new development."
The online course is well-timed to meet the crisis arising from the global spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
“In this moment of unprecedented difficulties when holding face-to-face meetings is not an option, UNCTAD's online courses are proving effective in continuing capacity-building services,” Ms. Zarrilli added.