In conjunction with the High-level Round Table on Trade and Gender, which takes place today in São Paulo as part of UNCTAD XI, the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Gender and Trade is launching Trade and Gender – Opportunities and Challenges for Developing Countries. The book is intended to sensitize policy makers on the gender implications of trade, to foster discussion among experts and to provide a good basis for consensus-building.
The book, to which numerous members of the UN Task Force contributed, tackles a number of issues.
- An increase in trade and investment in the labour-intensive sectors of goods and services markets (such as textiles and clothing, footwear, horticulture, data processing, service outsourcing or offshoring) has provided a window of opportunity for women's employment. The freer temporary "movement of natural persons" has also increased income-earning opportunities for women workers.
- In agrarian economies, however, when import expansion has displaced domestic production, women often bear the brunt of the cost of adjustment. The removal in developing countries of domestic support to small-scale farmers, most of whom are women, may result in widespread job losses.
- A large, cheap and low-skilled female labour surplus has often provided the competitive edge for export-oriented and labour-intensive industries in developing countries. This has contributed in many countries to maintaining large wage differentials between male workers (mostly skilled) and female workers (mostly unskilled), despite increases in exports. Women are still earning less than men and are stuck in the lower end of the pay and skills scales.
- The liberalization of services has the potential to enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of developing countries, but it is important to ensure fair access to basic resources and services for the poor and for women.
- Multilateral trade commitments and agreements can affect women and gender equality in different ways: market access measures can lead to the expansion of production in sectors where women are predominantly employed; trade rules in some instances can limit the capacity of governments to apply policies in support of gender equality; and reduction of tariff revenues can have an impact on governments' social protection programmes in favour of women.
It is recommended that measures be adopted on the one hand to enhance beneficial impacts, for example by improving market access, and on the other hand, to mitigate negative impacts by helping displaced small-scale women producers to adjust to trade liberalization. This will make the objective of an open and rule-based multilateral trading system consistent with the objective of gender equality. Capacity-building for policy makers, and the use of specific analytical tools designed to assess the impacts of trade on gender equality, appear to be essential in this respect.
Skill enhancement and capacity-building remain fundamental to helping women take full advantage of the opportunities offered by international trade. Governments also have a role to play in addressing failures in the labour markets and ensuring gender equality in the workplace.
Fair trade initiatives are also encouraged to stress gender equality standards. In addition, corporate social responsibility of multinational companies is called for to ensure gender equality in their production and supply chains.