While we can all agree that trade offers the potential for inclusive and sustainable growth in small Caribbean states, deployment of a successful trade strategy requires recognition and ultimately monitoring of its differentiated impacts on women and men. Despite immense strides made in empowering women, they remain under-represented in global trade and are disproportionately affected by international competition and technological changes.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019, we highlight the link between trade and gender and make the case that accelerating gender mainstreaming in trade policies of CARICOM Member States promotes not just gender equality, but inclusive growth as well.
Gender Equality and Development Nexus
Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, the international community has committed to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2030. Not only is enhancing women’s equality and economic empowerment a human right, but the removal of legal and other barriers to women’s economic inclusion has a multiplier effect in the economy due to women’s dual role as caregivers and economic actors. World Bank research has found that women invest up to 90% of their income in their families, with positive spill-overs for their communities and the economy. A recent Mckinsey Global Institute Report found that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
Despite this compelling data, and although they account for half of the world’s working age population, women remain under-represented in international trade on account of their unequal access to factors of production and inbuilt gender biases. A recently released World Bank Report entitled “Women Business and the Law 2019” found that out of 187 countries globally, women had equal legal rights to men in only 6.
Gender and Trade Nexus
Trade policies are not necessarily gender neutral: they impact women and men differently at both the country and sectoral levels. Recognizing this, a policy of “gender mainstreaming” aims to promote gender equality by integrating gender considerations in the preparation, design, implementation and monitoring of policies.
Trade creates opportunities for women’s empowerment by creating both employment and business opportunities, but it can also alienate them. For example, while e-commerce can improve women’s access to foreign markets, increased competition through trade liberalisation can displace and marginalize women in agriculture. Because they are both caregivers and economic actors, woman often have less time on average than men to engage in entrepreneurial and exporting activities. At the same time, their access to market information is often lower due to fewer networks and lower education levels. Knowing this, ex ante gender-based analysis can assist policymakers to avoid negative gender impacts of policies that they implement.
A number of international institutions have developed programmes to increase women’s inclusion in trade. For instance, the International Trade Centre (ITC) has created a She Trades electronic platform; and the World Trade Organization (WTO), at its Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference in 2017, adopted a Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. Regionally, the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s Women Empowered Through Export (We-Xport) initiative supports Caribbean businesswomen looking to export for the first time or to increase their goods and services exports.
But there is still lots to do in CARICOM. Despite the fact that CARICOM Member States are signatory to a plethora of international treaties aimed at the empowerment of women, their trade policies are to a large extent being enacted and maintained in the absence of evidence and data that is timely, comparable and sex-disaggregated. Mainstreaming gender into CARICOM countries’ trade and development policy-making would help to ensure that initiatives under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and CARICOM’s trade negotiations with third parties are gender-sensitive. It is, therefore, a welcome development that Belize’s recently launched National Trade Policy (2019-2030) incorporates gender equality as a cross-cutting issue. Another praiseworthy development is that in February 2019, it was announced that national consultations were underway on a draft CARICOM Regional Gender Equality Strategy to advance gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women and girls in each of the fifteen CARICOM Member States.
How can CARICOM Member States promote Gender Mainstreaming in Trade?
Based on the above, we recommend the following ways in which CARICOM’s trade policies may be more gender-sensitive:
- Mainstreaming gender in the design and implementation of National Trade Policies. Belize’s new National Trade Policy can serve as a good model;
- Gender sensitivity training of key technocrats charged with formulating, implementing and monitoring trade and economic policies and their gendered impact. Gender-based policy making and monitoring will require greater resource allocation to the agencies charged with gender affairs;
- Enlisting the assistance of civil society and the private sector in designing trade policies and measuring their impact;
- Increasing specific programmes in Member States’ aimed a promoting women’s entrepreneurship and export activities through capacity-building, improving their access to finance and to trade information;
- Promoting greater inclusion of gender provisions in CARICOM’s free trade agreements (FTAs). The most far-reaching of these FTAs like the Canada-Chile and Chile-Uruguay FTAs, contain dedicated trade and gender chapters. CARICOM’s trade agreements, however, are generally sparse on gender provisions;
- Continued lobbying of regional policy makers to honour the commitments they have made both regionally and internationally to promote gender equality, particularly their reporting and gender mainstreaming commitments.
International Aid for Trade programming is becoming increasingly gender-focused. With foreign donors increasingly making gender an important plank of their aid strategies, CARICOM governments seeking development assistance are increasingly under pressure to include gender considerations. However, gender mainstreaming is not just about ensuring CARICOM Member States meet their international treaty obligations or increase their access donor to funding. When properly implemented, gender-sensitive trade policies promote women’s empowerment, eradicate poverty and foster inclusive growth.