Good evening,

Let me start by thanking once again Trade Finance Global for hosting today's event and for bringing us all together.  It is a real pleasure to be here today with so many women leaders from different sectors of economy and international organizations. I enjoyed all the illuminating discussions we had earlier today as part of the roundtables. 

I am delighted to open this dinner with some brief remarks on how the power of international trade can be harnessed to achieve better gender equity, and how the World Trade Organization can help make it happen.

The global economy is not gender-neutral. It is estimated that women represent 39% of the global workforce worldwide, and their earnings are on average between 10 and 30% lower than those of men. In addition, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid household work, and this burden increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, the pandemic has had a disproportionately adverse effect on women's labour market outcomes. Women lost more than 64 million jobs in 2020, a 5% loss, compared to a 3.9% loss for men.

Trade is also not gender-neutral. There is evidence that women face higher obstacles than men in accessing the global market and the economic opportunities created by trade. Women entrepreneurs face higher trade costs than men, which prevent them from trading internationally. In particular, women face greater barriers to finance, higher costs of doing business, and more limited access to information and markets. Such structural challenges in the global economy prevent women from fully reaping the benefits of trade. As a result, only 1 in 5 female-owned small businesses is exporting.

At the same time, we know that international trade can be extremely beneficial for women. Our joint research with the World Bank shows that firms engaged in international trade employ more women, pay them better, and offer better working conditions. For example, in some countries, such as Morocco, Romania, and Vietnam, women make up 50% or more of the workforce of exporting firms, thus creating jobs for more than 5 million women in these countries, representing roughly 15% of the female population working in these countries.

Trade has also been instrumental in providing women with job opportunities in the formal sector in developing countries, significantly reducing participation in the informal sector and its more insecure working conditions. According to our research, women are more likely to work informally in sectors with low levels of exports.

Trade rules often are not gender-neutral.  There is growing recognition of the hidden taxes in the form of tariffs on products that women buy.  Ed Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute issued an analysis on, of all things, women's underwear on, appropriately enough, Valentine's Day, laying bare that men's underwear enjoys lower duties in the U.S.  Why?  It is probably not sexism per se, but a reflection of the simple desire to protect domestic industries, particularly those engaged in higher-value added intricate work on lingerie.  But we see this problem across a variety of products that women buy, from gloves to sanitary products.  Making policymakers more aware of this gender bias could lead to more equitable and gender-neutral policies.

Given that the global economy and commerce are structurally not gender-neutral, rules governing international trade should be designed to reach gender-neutrality.

Today, we no longer think about international trade purely in terms of market opening and tariff reduction. Instead, we also want trade to be a source of virtue, and we want to use its power to assist those who may not have fully benefitted from economic globalization before — for example, women, indigenous peoples, and persons with disability. This is in line with the objectives of raising standards of living, ensuring full employment, and sustainable development, all enshrined in the preamble to the WTO Marrakesh Agreement.

Making trade more inclusive by supporting the integration of women in international trade is at the heart of our work at the World Trade Organization. Let me elaborate.

  • A group of WTO Members created the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender in 2020 and thus made the trade and gender issue part of the WTO agenda. The Group comprises more than 120 Members and serves as a platform to strengthen 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.
  • These efforts have started bearing fruit. In the Outcome Document of the 12th Ministerial Conference concluded last summer, which sets the Organization's priorities, all WTO Members recognized the importance of women's economic empowerment. Furthermore, with the inclusion of a non-discrimination provision into the Services Domestic Regulation plurilateral agreement, we now have the first gender equality provision in a WTO-negotiated outcome.
  • In addition, gender provisions and even chapters can be found in many regional trade agreements, especially more recent ones. They recognise women's contribution to economic growth, sustainable development, and socio-economic transformation.
  • According to our estimates, out of 500 trade agreements reviewed by the WTO Secretariat, 104 include gender provisions or chapters. The WTO has published a comprehensive database detailing such gender provisions included in trade agreements since the Treaty of Rome of 1957, which was the first trade agreement introducing the principle of equal pay for men and women. I invite you to take a look at it.
  • The WTO Secretariat also actively supports Members in their work on trade and gender. We have launched several initiatives, such as the Gender Research Hub, and we had our first World Trade Congress on Gender at the end of last year.
  • Offering trainings on trade and gender, collecting data, and suggesting policy tools to help Members integrate gender in their policies are also an important part of our work. The database I mentioned before is an example of such work.
  • Finally, I'd like to note that we have also joined forces with the ILO to examine the effects of recent crises from the gender perspective and to ensure that trade contributes to an inclusive recovery.

Let me conclude by referring to the Treaty of Versailles of 1920, the Preamble of which sits on the wall of the main entrance to the WTO building. This treaty which establishes the principle of universal peace and stipulates that it can be achieved only if it is based on social justice. And it adds that one of the components of social justice is the protection of women.

This message still carries a lot of weight today, as the WTO seeks to transform itself from a gender-blind to a gender-aware, and ultimately a gender-neutral, Organization. We need to make trade work for women because when women do better, societies do better.

Thank you.




Problems viewing this page? If so, please contact [email protected] giving details of the operating system and web browser you are using.