By Tharumalee Silva
It is indeed not an overarching statement to say that the oppression of women due to structural and historical narratives has bled its way into the 21st century. Hence, age-old global systems such as international trade being dominated by oppressive values and systems are an unfortunate reality. The need for gender-responsive trade policies arose from the recognition that gender inequality is a barrier to economic growth and development. Discrimination, unequal access to finance and trade-related services, and limited opportunities for education and training have hindered women’s participation in international trade for generations. Due to the inability of women to fully participate in trade and benefit from the potential of economic growth and development, women entrepreneurs only account for a minute percentage of exporters and importers around the world, signalling a significant gender gap in trade.
According to a report by the International Trade Centre (ITC) named “SheTrades Outlook 2021: The Latest Global Data on Women in Trade”, women account for only 21% of all exporters, and only 7% of women-led businesses export their products or services. The report also found that women owned-businesses tend to focus on smaller and less profitable export markets. As a response to this global crisis, gender-responsive trade policies were developed as a way of recognising and addressing the unique challenges faced by women in trade. The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) launched its first Gender and Trade Initiative (GET), aiming to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in trade policy and practice through research, capacity building and advocacy. Several countries have successfully adopted gender-responsive trade policies, which have helped in enhancing their economic capabilities.
Canada’s Feminist International Assitance Policy (FIAP) is one of the most recent Gender- Responsive trade policies that have been adopted. This policy aims to contribute to global efforts to eradicate poverty around the world. Marie Claude Bibeu, the then Minister of International Development and La Francophonie stated that “To achieve this, we must address inequality. Specifically, we need to make sure that women and girls are empowered to reach their full potential so they can earn their livelihoods, which will benefit families as well as the economic growth of their communities and countries”. Canada has strived to achieve this task by taking several systemic measures. To promote gender equality in international assistance programmes, Canada introduced a new gender equality marker to track the impact of Canada’s international programs on gender equality, ensuring that at least 95% of all projects and initiatives are supported. Furthermore, Canada has taken steps to support women entrepreneurs and businesses by providing access to finance, training and promotion of equal pay for work of equal value to address barriers to women’s participation to enhance inclusive economic growth. Although it is still too early to completely assess the impacts of this policy, Canada has achieved some initial results as evidence of its effectiveness. According to Global Affairs Canada, the department responsible for implementing FIAP has provided more than USD 1.2 billion in funding to women’s organisations and feminist movements since the policy was launched in 2017. Moreover, as of 2019, Canada has provided more than 750,00 women with access to financial services and more than 40,00 women with business training and support as a result of this policy.
Another country which has adopted an effective Gender-responsive Trade Policy (GRTP) is Rwanda. Launched in 2017, the policy is based on the country’s broader national development strategy, which recognises the importance of gender equality in all areas of society. The policy aims to promote women’s participation in trade and ensure equal access to the benefits of international trade, including but not limited to increased economic growth and job creation. Some of the key features of this policy include; Gender-sensitive trade negotiations, which aim to promote women’s participation in negotiation spaces, giving them a decisive voice in formulating agreements; implementing programmes and initiatives that promote capacity building for women entrepreneurs to provide training and mentorship opportunities as well as access to financial and trade-related support for women-led business; Gender-sensitive trade data collection to recognise the importance of gender-sensitive data collection and analysis for developing effective gender-responsive trade policies. According to a report by the ITC, as a result of GRTP, Rwanda saw an increase in women’s participation in cross-broader trade from 22% in 2012 to 31% in 2018. Furthermore, in 2020, the African Development Bank approved a USD 3 million grant to support the implementation of GRTP to improve women’s access to finance. The Rwandan GRTP was recognised as the best practice in Gender-responsive Trade policies by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2021. While Rwanda’s efforts are certainly commendable, there is much work to be done to fully realise the policy’s objectives.
Peru’s Gender and Trade Strategy (GTS) has also made significant progress in promoting gender equality in the country’s trade sector. Launched in 2018, the GTS aims to increase the participation of women-owned businesses in international trade by providing training and technical assistance to women entrepreneurs. It also aimed to address gender-based barriers such as discriminatory laws and regulations and challenging social and cultural norms restricting women’s participation. Peru’s GTS was recognised as one of the best gender-responsive trade policies by UNCTAD in 2019. As a result of the GTS, the ITC acknowledged that the number of women-owned businesses exporting in Peru increased by 22% between 2016 and 2019.
Undoubtedly, Women are an essential force in driving economic growth. By addressing the gender-based barriers in the trade sector and increasing women’s access to trade opportunities we can unlock a country’s full potential for economic growth. Thus, Gender-responsive trade policies are not only an effective measure in combatting gender discrimination, but it also a smart and viable way of ensuring economic policies that benefit society as a whole. By aiming to trade up and invest in gender equality and non-discriminatory environments in International trade, we can create a more prosperous and equitable world.