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women and trade

Women and trade: State of play briefing note

Trade policy can affect men and women differently, with women facing higher obstacles to taking part in the global economy and world trade. Increasing women's participation in the labour market could increase countries' productivity and trade opportunities, leading to greater economic diversification, innovation and poverty reduction. Trade has an important role to play in driving economic growth by supporting women's empowerment and advancing gender equality. Activities of the Informal Working Group and the WTO Secretariat are aimed at incorporating gender issues into the organization's work and promoting women's participation in global trade.

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 (MC11) by 118 WTO members and observers. The Informal Working Group is co-chaired by Cabo Verde, El Salvador, and the United Kingdom 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.

At the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, ministers recognized multilaterally the links between women's economic empowerment and economic growth, noting the work of the WTO on this issue. In addition, the three co-chairs of the Informal Working Group issued a statement highlighting the achievements of WTO members’ joint work and reaffirming their commitment to advancing gender equality in trade.

The WTO and the International Trade Centre also organized a joint event at MC12 titled “Unlocking Trade for Women’s Empowerment and Sustainable Development.” The event spotlighted perspectives from entrepreneurs and enabling organizations to effectively increase women’s participation in international trade.

“We need to deepen and diversify supply networks and bring more countries and communities from the economic margins to the mainstream. In this process, which I think of as re-globalization, women have to be at the centre,” Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said at the event.

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 trade and gender issues.

WTO priorities for gender equality

Priority 1: Promoting gender-responsive trade policy making

Through its Trade&Gender360° Strategy, the WTO is working to enhance members’ knowledge of trade and gender equality and providing training programmes for government officials. The WTO is also developing a set of 12 gender-responsive trade policy tools designed to support WTO members’ inclusive trade policy making.

Priority 2: Driving research on trade and gender globally

The WTO conducts research on trade and gender issues to support WTO members' work in increasing women's participation in international trade. WTO research and tools include:


Through the WTO Gender Research Hub, the WTO intends to further deepen understanding of women’s economic empowerment via trade, fostering research and data collection. The Hub serves as a global information-sharing and knowledge-gathering platform for informed policy making. It also aims to bring visibility to work on trade and gender and to promote the topic as a recognised field of research and expertise.

Priority 3: Making Aid for Trade work for women

In 2021-22, the WTO reformed its Aid for Trade Monitoring and Evaluation Exercise to better integrate gender considerations into its data collection process. The WTO will continue to reform its approach to Aid for Trade and to develop other tools and methodologies to support members in integrating gender considerations into their Aid for Trade programmes.

More on women and trade.