Women gaining through trade liberalization in Lesotho, but some issues remain

24 August 2012

The UNCTAD study titled "Who is benefiting from trade liberalization in Lesotho? A gender perspective" has been published. This report aims to critically assess the gender implications of Lesotho's trade-led productive transformation.

The Lesotho case study highlights the multifaceted relationship between trade policy on the one hand, structural changes and productive transformation on the other, and their repercussions on patterns of employment for men and women.

The trade-led structural transformation in Lesotho -specifically the fast expansion of supply and trade capacity in the apparel sector -has created opportunities for women's empowerment and well-being through job creation in export-led sectors. Most significantly, trade-led developments have created a large number of new jobs for underprivileged, relatively unskilled women who would otherwise have little chance of being formally employed. In addition, women working in the apparel factories have access to innovative workplace health programmes that provide free HIV care and treatment in a context in which the spread of HIV and AIDS has had a disproportionate impact on women.

However, there are qualifications to be made, and some aspects that need to be critically assessed. Some of the major areas of concern include: the quality of the employment created (wages, working conditions and skills development), the spillover effects within the economy, and new patterns of vulnerability to external shocks.

By combining quantitative and qualitative methods and a sector-specific focus, the report assesses critical gender implications of Lesotho's trade-led productive transformation, and provides a spectrum of policy options that Lesotho may wish to consider for the implementation of a sustainable, gender-sensitive trade strategy.

This study is part of UNCTAD's activities on trade, gender and development, carried out by the Organization in accordance with its mandate.  At UNCTAD XIII in Doha last April, member States in the Doha Mandate agreed that UNCTAD should "reinforce its work on the links between gender equality, women's empowerment, and trade and development."

The study completed for Lesotho is one in a series of case studies that are being conducted by UNCTAD in six developing and least developed countries, namely: Bhutan, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Angola, Uruguay and Rwanda.​