mc12 briefing note

Women and trade

Trade and trade policy have different impacts on men and women as women can face higher obstacles to economic participation. Efforts of over 120 WTO members and the Secretariat are aimed at incorporating gender issues into the organization's work.

Evidence shows that women face higher obstacles to trade than men, through legal prohibitions to economic participation, discrimination in the granting of finance, the persisting gender digital divide, and knowledge gaps in trade and trade rules. The urgency of the issue heightened during the COVID-19 crisis, with a WTO report confirming that women are at risk of suffering more than men from the trade disruption generated by the pandemic.

However, trade can foster women's economic empowerment. The development and implementation of gender-responsive trade policies can advance gender equality, including through WTO agreements crafted with gender considerations in mind.
Trade policies supporting women's economic empowerment cover financial and non-financial incentives, government procurement and capacity building as well. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women entrepreneurs and workers has led to calls for increased initiatives at local, national and regional levels.

Over two-thirds of the WTO membership has been focusing on gender issues in the WTO for the last five years. On 23 September 2020, they established the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender, which marked the ultimate phase of the initiative kickstarted in 2017 on the margins of the 11th Ministerial Conference by 118 WTO members and observers. The Informal Working Group is co-chaired by Botswana, El Salvador, and Iceland and its work is based on four pillars: 1) reviewing analytical work, 2) experience sharing, 3) considering the concept of and scope for a “gender lens” to be applied to the work of the WTO and 4) contributing to the Aid for Trade work programme. Participation in this Informal Working Group is open to all WTO members.

Since 2016, the WTO Secretariat has been working to incorporate gender issues into its work based on the 2017-2020 Action Plan on Trade and Gender and subsequent 2021-2026 plan. This work is conducted by the WTO Trade and Gender Unit whose objectives are to facilitate members' work, to conduct and drive research globally through the WTO Gender Research Hub, to support the reform of Aid for Trade, to train government officials and women entrepreneurs, and to raise awareness on the trade and gender nexus.

“We cannot expect to make good policy for all members of society if half of the population is not properly and equally represented at the table,” Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in March 2021 to mark International Women's Day. “Gender equality is a fundamental human rights issue and also an economic empowerment issue. We should all work harder in our respective roles to achieve complete gender equality.”


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