Women and trade

Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets a series of targets for the global community to reach by 2030, including on gender empowerment. The WTO is playing an active role in helping to meet the targets in the 2030 Agenda, including Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

SDG 5 includes the following targets: 

  • 5.1: End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
  • 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
  • 5.C: Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.

Sustainable development, trade and women's empowerment

As stated in the preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO, sustainable development is a key objective of the Organization.

The preamble states that the WTO should conduct its activities "with a view to raising standards of living … while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development”. The preamble also states that a "commensurate share in the growth in international trade" for developing and least developed countries needs to be ensured.

The mandate for the Aid for Trade initiative states: "Aid for trade should be rendered in a coherent manner taking full account … of the overall goal of sustainable development".

Since its establishment over 20 years ago, the WTO has sought to put trade at the centre of development and aid strategies. As a result, trade has helped to lift millions of people out of poverty. The WTO also seeks to ensure that everyone benefits from the opportunities offered by trade, including women and small businesses.

How trade contributes to SDG 5 on gender equality

Trade contributes to SDG 5 by creating employment opportunities for women and by increasing women's participation in the economy. When women have their own incomes, they improve not only their standard of living but also their status and bargaining power in the family increase. This is sometimes known as the "power of the purse".

Women invest most of their incomes (about 90 per cent - World Bank) back in their families (notably on education and health) and in their communities. Increasing their economic power has therefore a "snowball effect" on society, increasing living standards for all and consequently reducing poverty. In the long run, this leads to changes in social attitudes and an improvement in women’s rights.

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