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5 Aug 2020

WTO, WB study trade’s impact on gender equality

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Bank have launched a joint publication on how women benefit from trade and the role of trade in advancing gender equality.

According to the WTO press release, the publication shares how trade can expand women’s role in the economy, which can be linked to higher levels of gender equality, increased wages, improved working conditions, and improved women’s access to education and skills.

The publication titled, ‘Women and Trade: The Role of Trade in Promoting Gender Equality,’ examines the impact of trade on women as workers, consumers, and family members.

The report uses labor data disaggregated by gender at the industry level for 72 countries as well as a database on gender-related provisions in regional trade agreements. The report finds that firms engaged in international trade employ an average of 33% women compared to 24% of non-exporting firms.

In addition, women are more likely to be employed in formal jobs if they work in sectors that are more integrated in global value chains. Countries that are more open to trade, as measured by the ratio of trade to gross domestic product (GDP), have higher gender equality levels, notes the report.

The report also presents early evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on trade and women, concluding that the pandemic “is likely to hit women more than previous economic downturns,” especially in low-income countries.

As an illustration, women make up 60% to 80% of the workforce in the global value chain for apparel. The report explains how the volume of order cancellations in the apparel industry and the temporary closure of retail shops have resulted in factory shutdowns in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Viet Nam, negatively impacting women’s employment in these countries. Women have experienced similar challenges in the tourism and hospitality sectors, and face additional risks because of higher childcare burdens and lower information technology literacy rates.

The report makes recommendations to further empower women in trade and ensure that trade enhances opportunities for everyone, including through the growing digital economy, the rise in services, and the expansion of global value chains.

To harness such opportunities, the report suggests that countries introduce trade policies like lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers on goods produced and consumed primarily by women, helping women traders and small enterprises benefit from market opportunities through greater availability of trade finance and trade facilitation measures, and furthering opening trade in services.

The report highlights the key role the WTO can play in identifying and eliminating barriers to women’s participation in trade, such as in ongoing talks related to services, micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), agriculture, and electronic commerce.

The report further recommends improving transparency on gender-related policies to raise awareness on challenges women face in participating in world trade and help establish good practices as well as increasing opportunities for women in education, enhancing information technology skills, and increasing access to finance.

A virtual launch event, on 30 July 2020, reflected on how policymakers and the private sector can integrate women into global trade and underscored the linkages between the publication’s findings and the inclusion of women in COVID-19 recovery efforts.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo highlighted WTO analysis on how the pandemic has impacted gender equality gains, observing that women “risk losing some really hard-won progress towards greater gender equality because of this crisis.”

Azevêdo called for laying a foundation for a “strong, sustainable, and inclusive economic recovery” that ensures that “women are able to benefit from trade.”

World Bank Managing Director Mari Pangestu said the publication’s insights on how women are affected by trade “will be essential as countries develop and the global economy recovers from the pandemic.”

Panelists emphasized the essential role of cooperation in ensuring conditions for a fast recovery and creating more inclusive and sustainable trade in the future. 

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