Trade can help reduce the gender gap; World Bank, WTO Report

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Women at Workplace
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At a virtual event, the WTO and the World Bank have released a joint publication entitled “Women and Trade: The role of trade in promoting gender equality.”

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo and World Bank Managing Director Mari Pangestu shared their opinion that it is important to gain a better understanding of how women can benefit from trade to ensure that trade works for everyone and that its benefits are maintained in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

The report contains new research and studies on how women, in terms of incomes, welfare benefits and the quality and quantity of employment available to them, differ from men. For the first time, it draws from a dataset that provides labor data broken down by gender at the industry level from 72 countries. It also draws information relating to gender in regional trade agreements for the first time.

Despite many advances, women worldwide hold fewer jobs, are paid less, and are more likely than men to face poorer working conditions. Less than one in two women is employed and 80% of them hold medium and low-skilled jobs. In low-income nations, only 3% of female employees are skilled workers.

Mari Pangestu, who is the Managing Director of the World Bank said, “Over the past 30 years trade has been the engine of poverty reduction. This report shows that, provided the right policies are in place, it can also provide an engine to reduce the gender gap. Seizing these opportunities will be even more important in a post-COVID-19 world.”

The study notes that businesses engaged in foreign trade employ a higher percentage of women than non-export firms (33% on average compared to 24% for non-export firms). This also includes research about how trade raises salaries, enhances working conditions and is correlated with higher gender equality rates.

The report identifies trends that point to opportunities for women to be more empowered, namely increasing services, evolving global value chains and growing digital economy. Trade policies that countries might adopt to exploit these opportunities, such as lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers on goods primarily manufactured and consumed by women are also highlighted in the report.

Trade facilitation initiatives and greater availability of trade finance can play a crucial role in helping women traders and small businesses take advantage of market opportunities.

Digital technology and new online platforms have the potential to create opportunities for women in order to bypass traditional barriers to trade, expand their entrepreneurial skills and develop flexible careers that allow them to manage both work and home responsibilities say the report.

The report highlights the need for complementary policies aimed at increasing women’s opportunities in education, improving skills in information technology and increasing access to finance to optimize women’s gains from trade. Moreover, the role of governments, the private sector and the international organization is huge in promoting the role of trade for improved gender equality.