DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ANGELA ELLARD
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be part of this event launching a very important study by Dr Amrita Bahri, a WTO Chair, which explores how gender is mainstreamed in free trade agreements.
As an old Mexican saying goes, “A house does not rest upon the ground, but upon a woman”. Indeed, evidence from governments, international organizations, academia, and women entrepreneurs' associations suggests that giving an equal chance to women is not only economically efficient; it results in beneficial outcomes for families and society as a whole. It can unlock the kind of development potential that economies need so badly.
Making trade more inclusive by supporting the integration of women in international trade is a way to achieve this. And it is at the heart of the WTO's work today.
We are seeing the proliferation of gender-related provisions — or gender mainstreaming — in free trade agreements. This is an important tool for promoting inclusive trade, gender equality, and sustainable development. And since free trade agreements often serve as laboratories of innovations that later get implemented at the multilateral level, in the future, we may see some of these provisions making their way into the WTO rule book.
I am happy to share that the WTO has prepared and will soon publish a comprehensive database detailing gender provisions included in all trade agreements since the Treaty of Rome of 1957. This was the first trade agreement that introduced the principle of equal pay for men and women.
Out of 500 trade agreements reviewed by the Secretariat, 104 include gender provisions, and some even full chapters, like the one signed by Australia and the UK last year. As Dr Bahri's study observes, most of gender provisions focus on information sharing and collaboration, and few of them are legally binding. But there is a notable exception: most gender provisions in free trade agreements concluded by African countries contain mandatory language and are enforceable, making the region a trailblazer in this area.
Let me now turn to the trade and gender-related actions in the WTO. Since the WTO started working on these issues six years ago, it has turned from a gender-blind Organization into a gender-aware one. With the establishment of the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender in 2020, and the prospective adoption of the Declaration on Trade and Gender Equality, we are now on a path to become a gender-responsive Organization.
Through the creation of the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender, more than 120 WTO Members made the trade and gender issue part of the WTO agenda. The Group serves as a platform to strengthen Members' efforts to increase women's participation in global trade. With this aim, WTO Members have discussed various trade instruments, policies, and programmes in support of women.
They have now decided to take a step further and adopt the new Declaration on Trade and Gender Equality — their plan had been to do so at our 12th Ministerial Conference in December, which was postponed due to the deteriorating Covid situation. This will be the first formal Joint Ministerial Declaration fully devoted to supporting gender equality. It focuses on 4 key areas that are fundamental to make trade work for women: data collection, trade policy making, applying a gender lens to WTO work, and Aid for Trade.
Another positive development is the inclusion of a non-discrimination provision into the Services Domestic Regulation plurilateral agreement, which was concluded last year. This is the first gender equality provision in a WTO-negotiated outcome.
The WTO Secretariat, for its part, actively supports Members in their work on trade and gender. As Anoush explained, we have launched several initiatives, such as the Gender Research Hub. Research can be a powerful tool for governments to use when designing gender-responsive trade policies, and this is the Hub's primary function.
The Secretariat also supports Members by offering trainings on trade and gender, collecting data, and suggesting policy tools to help them integrate gender in their policies. The database I mentioned before is an example of such work.
I would like to conclude by quoting from one of the first slogans the suffragettes used, early in the last century, to gain their right to vote: “Deeds Not Words.”
We seek to abide by this slogan as we are transforming the WTO into a gender-responsive Organization, taking action to make women visible and foster their empowerment.