Implementing Gender-Responsive Trade Policies: Obstacles and Good Practices92

While mainstreaming gender perspectives in trade policy is a recent endeavour, countries have acquired more experience in mainstreaming other issues in trade policy, such as environmental protection and sustainable development. For example, environmental impact assessments enable countries to anticipate the possible impacts of a trade agreement on existing domestic environmental regulations as well as on a country’s ability to comply with its obligations under multilateral environmental agreements; and to assess whether policy changes would be required as a result of a trade agreement. Whether the assessment only concerns the country carrying it out or all the parties involved in a trade agreement, lessons learned through this kind of experience may prove useful when mainstreaming gender issues.(see note 93)

Assessing gender-related impacts of a trade agreement before adoption

Similarly to environmental assessments, an analysis of the potential effects of trade policy on gender equality could be carried out in parallel with, or prior to the negotiation of a trade agreement to inform policy-makers of anticipated gender-related impacts. Trade negotiators would be provided with information on sensitive sectors where trade liberalization should be expedited, delayed or exempted with a view to enhancing or protecting female employment or female-owned enterprises.

While trade liberalization should be paced in a way responsive to its potential distinct economic and social impact on women, this does not mean that non-competitive business sectors should be protected indefinitely simply because they employ a large number of female workers. In these sectors, professional training and educational policies and other measures should be put in place to upgrade women’s skills and integration in markets and provide financing and technology that enable them to move to more competitive, higher value-added and higher technology sectors of the economy.

Encouraging all countries to conduct a gender-related assessment of trade agreements before signing them, while a sound solution in principle, could be seen as imposing an additional burden on developing countries – especially LDCs – if their institutional capacity is not strengthened in parallel. Previous experience in the environmental field shows that many developing countries face important challenges in conducting autonomous assessments of trade agreements, due to insufficient resources and data. Supporting the establishment of local research capacity in the developing world to conduct gender impact assessments of trade agreements would encourage developing countries’ governments to take ownership of gender-related policy options while enhancing the worldwide coverage of gender-related trade assessments.(see note 94)

Gender analysis in the configuration of trade agreements

An explicit reference to gender equality in the core text of trade agreements helps increase political commitment and may increase the availability of funding for gender-related programmes of technical cooperation. For example the Cotonou Agreement (see note 95) , which provides the legal basis of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and the ACP (Africa, Asia and the Pacific) group of countries, explicitly states that parties should respect international conventions regarding women’s rights and gender equality, and commit to include a gender perspective in “all areas of cooperation.”

In other cases, gender perspectives are addressed in the side accords that accompany the main trade agreements. For instance, the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation – one of the two side agreements of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (see note 96) – exhorts the parties to promote cooperative activities regarding, among others (a) the equality of women and men in the workplace; (b) the elimination of employment discrimination, including gender-based; and (c) equal pay for women and men. The clear integration of gender equality principles in these ad hoc mechanisms enhances the opportunities to engage civil society organizations in the design and implementation of these agreements, which usually involve labour organizations and other civil society organizations.

Some agreements embed gender considerations within their capacity development mechanisms. For example, the Labour Cooperation and Capacity-Building mechanism of the United States–Central America Free Trade Agreement (see note 97) sets out gender equality, “including the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation,” as a cooperation and capacity-building priority. Similarly, the EU–Mexico Global Agreement (see note 98) considers gender equality, along with human rights and environmental issues, as a cross-cutting issue to be mainstreamed in the development cooperation between the parties.

Finally, gender issues are also addressed in parallel activities and discussions surrounding the implementation of regional agreements or forums. This is the case, for example, with the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (see note 99), which aims to integrate gender perspectives in all policies, programmes and practices of member governments, in order to achieve greater gender equality.

Developing countries have traditionally been cautious about incorporating non-trade concerns (e.g., environmental or labour) into trade agreements. Their fear is that these considerations may result in trade barriers or that their implementation may constitute an excessive burden in terms of financial and human resources. As the same difficulties can be expected for incorporating gender perspectives into trade agreements, gender-related commitments need to be tailored to the economic and political contexts of the countries involved.

Incorporating gender components in Aid-for-Trade and other development assistance mechanisms

Multilateral development assistance frameworks such as the Aid-for-Trade (AfT) Initiative, the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to the Least Developed Countries (EIF) and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) also provide entry points to integrate gender issues in international trade.

The important role that trade can play in reducing poverty was recognized in the call made at the 2005 WTO Hong Kong Ministerial meeting for increased support to developing countries through the AfT Initiative.(see note 100) AfT aims to help developing and least developed countries offset the negative consequences arising from trade liberalization and overcome structural limitations and weak capacities that undermine their ability to produce, compete and fully benefit from emerging trade and investment opportunities.

Projects and programmes are eligible for AfT assistance if they match the trade-related development priorities of the recipient country's national development strategies.(see note 101) Thus interventions aimed at facilitating women's participation in international trade would be eligible for AfT financing if such actions were identified among the country’s trade-related priorities, national action plans, export strategies and/or trade-related poverty reduction policies. AfT financing may include the technological upgrading of women farmers, the improvement of women farmers' capacity to produce according to international standards or to private standards developed by supermarket chains, and the improvement of the operating environment of women informal cross border traders.

Gender equality focused aid within the Aid-for-Trade initiative almost tripled from US$ 0.5 billion in 2006 to US$ 1.3 billion in 2008. Even so, this represents only about 3 percent of total Aid-for-Trade (US$ 42 billion in 2008).(see note 102) The modest resources devoted to specific initiatives that target women in trade may well reflect the still limited capacity of developing countries to mainstream gender considerations in their national trade and development strategies. (see note 103)

UNDAF, which guides the directions of programmes supported by the UN at country level, can play a catalyst role for leveraging funds and promoting a broader uptake of national policy commitments to gender equality in trade. Gender equality is one of the three normative principles that inform UNDAF and a number of toolkits and frameworks have been developed to support UNDAF planning, monitoring and evaluation, including on gender mainstreaming. (see note 104)

EIF is the main mechanism through which the LDCs access additional Aid for Trade resources. EIF(see note 105) can also prompt national governments to include gender equality goals in trade in their national development strategies and assist in the delivery of trade-related technical assistance in response to needs identified by the LDCs.

In line with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness,(see note 106) the three frameworks - UNDAF, EIF and AfT – emphasize the principle of national ownership, acknowledging the prerogative of developing countries to design their national development strategies and to single out the programmes and projects that will be instrumental to their achievement.

Yet, critical institutional capacity gaps persist, at both the multilateral and national levels, to genuinely mainstream a gender dimension into policy areas that are too often perceived as gender-neutral, such as trade. The number of LDCs that have included actions aimed at improving women's participation in trade within their trade strategies and related development plans remains limited. Women's enhanced participation in trade decision-making, in the development of national action plans and in the formulation and implementation of trade-related poverty reduction strategies would be instrumental to incorporating targeted measures for women traders in the country’s trade priorities.


92 UNCTAD (2009). Op. cit., excerpts from paragraphs 42-58.

93 Coche I, Kotschwar B and Salazar–Xirinachs JM (2006). Gender Issues in Trade Policymaking. OAS Trade Series, http://www.sice.oas.org/genderandtrade/genderissuesintp_e.asp

94 Good examples are initiatives in India described in the book Mainstreaming Gender through India’s Foreign Trade Policy by Rajan S Ratna, IIFT, 2010, especially pages 15-19.

95 ACP-EC-Partnership Agreement, ("The Cotonou Agreement"). 2000. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/development/icenter/repository/agr01_en.pdf

96 Available at: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/regs/naalc/naalc.htm

97 Available at: www.ustr.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/agreements/cafta/asset_upload_file320_3936.pdf

98 Available at: http://www.sice.oas.org/Trade/mex_eu/english/Text_e.asp

99 Available at: http://www.apec.org/Home/Groups/SOM-Steering-Committee-on-Economic-and-Technical-Cooperation/Task-Groups/Gender-Focal-Point-Network

100 Ministerial Declaration adopted on 18 December 2005, para 57, http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min05_e/final_text_e.htm; and http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/devel_e/a4t_e/aid4trade_e.htm

101 A WTO Task Force was established which identified six categories of AfT, namely: trade policy and regulations; trade development; trade-related infrastructure; building productive capacity (including private sector development); trade-related adjustment (including support for adjustment associated with changes in international trade regimes), and other trade-related needs. In other words, aid is divided into two main categories: aid directly helping developing countries formulate and implement trade policies and practice; and aid supporting developing countries' wider economic capacity to trade, e.g. invest in infrastructure and productive sectors.

102 Aid for Trade: A gender dimension, Powerpoint presentation by F. Lammersen, OECD, Gendernet 8th meeting, 17 June 2010, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/57/8/45523507.pdf

103 The ITC and the WTO organized on 25 October 2010 an Expert Round Table on The Gender Dimension of Aid for Trade where a number of case studies were presented. See: http://www.intracen.org/womenandtrade/expert-round-table.htm

104 Available at: http://www.undg.org/index.cfm?P=222; http://www.undg.org/docs/11096/How-to-Prepare-an-UNDAF-(Part-I).pdf; and http://www.undg.org/docs/11190/UNDAF-Guidance-Principles.pdf

105 The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least-Developed Countries (LDC) was established by IMF, ITC, UNCTAD, UNDP, World Bank and the WTO in 1997 to support LDC governments in trade capacity building and in integrating trade issues into overall national development strategies. See, http://www.integratedframework.org

106 The Paris Declaration, endorsed in March 2005, establishes commitments for donor and partner countries to support more effective official development assistance (ODA) in a context of significant scaling up of aid. The intention is to reform the delivery and management of aid in order to improve its effectiveness and achieve development results. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental cornerstones for achieving development results and the ultimate goals of the Paris Declaration: to increase the impact of aid on reducing poverty and inequality, increase growth, build capacity and accelerate achievement of the MDGs. The Paris Declaration commitments also provide opportunities to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. Concrete measures, however, are needed to ensure that the changed modalities address — not reinforce existing gender inequalities. OECD (2008), Gender Equality, Women's Empowerment and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness - Issues Brief 2, http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/0/41/41050659.pdf World Bank (2004). “The Impact of International Trade on Gender Equality”. PREM NOTES Number 86. Available at: http://www1.worldbank.org/prem/PREMNotes/premnote86.pdf.




The Way Forward

Including gender perspectives in trade policy and related agreements is an essential element of an integrated development policy framework which combines social and economic measures to ensure fairer and beneficial outcomes for all. Trade can have strong and varying effects on the overall wellbeing of different groups of economic actors, including women, which require adequate and specific policy responses.

While trade policies need to become gender-responsive, other measures not directly related to trade are also necessary if both women and men —and the economy as a whole— are to reap the full benefits of trade expansion. These include education, employment, fiscal and social policies, and, above all, policies that enhance productive capacities. Women’s education and continuing skills acquisition are likely to be the most important factors determining the impact of trade on women’s economic opportunities and on reducing the gender wage gap. As long as women remain less qualified than men, they are likely to remain in lower paying, less secure jobs, even if better-paying jobs become available through trade expansion. Improving women's access to education, technology and skills, on the other hand, implies a change in attitudes and in socio-cultural norms, as well as a more equitable distribution of household chores between men and women; moreover, it cannot happen without addressing the "time poverty" issue.

Two common shortcomings should be avoided when mainstreaming gender in trade policy. First, - the "adding-on" shortcoming - consists of making gender considerations an after-thought; in other words, gender-differentiated impacts of trade policy and trade agreements are evaluated once the most crucial phases of trade policy formulation and negotiation are already completed. The second - the "evaporation" shortcoming - consists of discussing and assessing gender- related issues during trade policy formulation and negotiations but failing to include concrete measures in the core of trade agreements and trade laws.

The United Nations supports governments and civil society organizations to undertake actions to enhance the inclusion of gender perspectives in trade policies. The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples of these actions divided into two main categories, namely Gender equality policies and Women's Empowerment:

Gender equality policies

  • Support developing countries' capacity to assess the gender dimensions of trade policies through country case studies and training of policy makers and trade negotiators.
  • Produce sound and reliable data to evaluate the gendered impacts of different trade measures and instruments.
  • Gather evidence on possible trade and other complementary policies and measures necessary to enable women to benefit from trade, or to reduce the negative impacts that trade may have on them.
  • In parallel or prior to the negotiation of trade agreements, provide inputs for the elaboration of gender assessments of such agreements, as part of a broader human development impact assessment; and support countries to monitor the impact of such agreements on women's empowerment and gender equality during implementation.
  • Support countries' national and/or regional efforts to increase coherence among different but interlinked policies, such as trade, development, employment, migration and gender equality.
  • Support advocacy platforms of women informal traders for promoting an enabling environment for their business and access to better services.
  • Support the inclusion of gender considerations into multilateral development cooperation frameworks, such as UNDAF, AfT and EIF.
  • Develop specific training programmes for women entrepreneurs to enhance their participation in world trade.
  • Support countries in collecting and analyzing sex-disaggregated data, including those related to informal traders, and on designing appropriate questionnaires and evaluating the information gathered.

Women's empowerment and participation

  • Support broad-based effective participation of women and women’s groups in trade consultations and negotiations as well as in trade policy-making and related implementation.
  • Facilitate the exchange of views and experiences among women engaged in trade negotiations and policy formulation and implementation.
  • Facilitate contacts, coaching and sharing of experiences among women entrepreneurs.
  • Facilitate the linkages between women-owned/managed micro and small enterprises and larger national or multinational firms.