Women are most affected; WTO Study on COVID trade impact

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Women are likely to be more adversely affected than men by trade disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, reports an information note from the World Trade Organization’s secretariat.

According to the report, this effect can get particularly acute in developing countries.

The paper is based on the data collected from the World Bank Enterprise Surveys, monthly merchandise export data, and statistics on the mode of delivering a service. It estimates the risk posed to men and women by trade disruptions and points out how policy responses from governments are necessary to resolve the crisis’s gender-specific impact.

Women make up a greater share of the manufacturing sector workforce, such as clothing, textile, telecommunication devices and footwear. These are also the sectors that witnessed the biggest decline in export growth during the first months of the pandemic, the paper reports.

For instance, female employees constitute 80% of the workforce in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment production, where industry orders declined by 45.8% over the first quarter of 2020, and by 81% in April alone.

Women also outnumber men in the sectors that have been significantly disrupted by travel restrictions, such as tourism and business travel services.

Moreover Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) constitute a significant share of businesses that are owned or operated by women. These companies are at greater risk due to lower rates of financial capital and restricted access to public funds.

The paper also states that women in developing and least-developed countries are primarily present in the informal sector and in activities that can not be performed remotely. It also highlights how the existing gender gap in terms of income, education, competencies in information technology, access to finance, and responsibilities in childcare places women at a further disadvantage during the pandemic.

To build a faster and more sustainable development, it is crucial to maintain an open market during the recovery phase, says the report. While effective labor and education, policies should complement this along legal and social reforms to help women traders, employees and consumers.

Recently, WTO and the World Bank had partnered together to launch a study called “Women and Trade: The Role of Trade in Promoting Gender Equality,” outlining ways to ensure that women continue to benefit from trade during a post-pandemic economic recovery.