Trade empowers women: Insights from WTO Summit


The recent Summit, organized by the WTO and the WTO Gender Research Hub on 13-14 November’23 in partnership with the Government of Spain and the World Bank, showcased a significant milestone between the inaugural World Trade Congress on Gender in December 2022 – which shed light on women’s economic empowerment through trade – and the second edition of the Congress.

With a “He for She” and “Youth for She” spirit, the summit explored strategies to engage young women in trade. During discussions, 50 youth participants identified various obstacles hindering their participation:

  • Gender discrimination perpetuates global gender gaps, denying opportunities for women. According to the World Economic Forum, it is projected to take 162 years to close the gender gap worldwide. Commitment to the sustainable development goals, particularly SDG 5, could help secure full access to education for young girls within approximately 16 years.
  • Researchers pondered why women, who constitute over half of the global population and contribute 75% to global GDP, still face limitations in their involvement in international trade.
  • The G20/Y20  former youth representative from India made a significant contribution, emphasizing the need to challenge societal mindsets that perpetuate the notion of women’s inferiority to men. Addressing this issue is crucial to combat unequal pay, lack of support, and underrepresentation of women in boardrooms and politics.
  • A rising star in movie production, screenwriting, and acting sheds light on the need to make this industry more inclusive.  In addition, she spoke about the specific challenges of trade in services and how trade agreements can facilitate better women’s representation in the film industry.
  • Researchers also highlighted industry-specific barriers and trade enablers. Across sectors, women’s entrepreneurship, education, and skills development, including self-confidence, access to finance, and financial support, play crucial roles in facilitating women’s engagement in trade. Additionally, creating an enabling environment involves family support, such as childcare, parental leave, and health measures like menstrual leave, as well as ensuring workplace security and safety. Researchers also emphasized the need for accountability through action-oriented measures and mechanisms for gender inclusion, including complaint and dispute resolution frameworks.
  • Governments and international organizations are working to incorporate gender perspectives into trade policies, acknowledging that women often face unique challenges in accessing markets, resources, and opportunities. This integration involves assessing the differential impacts of trade policies on men and women, to promote inclusive economic growth.
  • Government representatives shared their countries’ experiences implementing feminist foreign policies and integrating gender chapters into bilateral and regional trade agreements. There was a consensus that gender equality and trade are integral to development.
  • Trade policies are evolving to foster gender equality by considering the specific needs of women entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers. This includes initiatives to remove discriminatory practices, enhance access to credit and market information, and promote women’s participation in sectors traditionally dominated by men.
  • Moreover, trade agreements increasingly include provisions dedicated to gender equality, aiming to create a fair and level playing field. Provisions may address issues such as eliminating gender-based discrimination, supporting women-owned businesses, and ensuring workplace equality.
  • The participants acknowledged the significance of women in trade as not merely a means of survival but as a catalyst for creating business opportunities and fostering growth.
Women in Trade

Throughout the discussions, the resounding message was clear: change is possible, but change is hard. It requires collective efforts, policy reforms, and a steadfast commitment to dismantling the barriers that hinder women’s full participation in international trade. Trade and gender equality have become increasingly intertwined as the global community recognizes the pivotal role of women in economic development. The integration of gender into trade policy involves addressing the disparities and barriers that hinder equal participation and benefits for both men and women in international trade. By integrating gender into trade policy there is a recognition that fostering women’s economic empowerment is not only a matter of social justice but also a crucial driver for sustainable economic growth. As this integration progresses, trade is increasingly becoming a powerful tool for advancing gender equality and empowering women worldwide.

The summit illuminated the urgent need to address these barriers and create an inclusive trade environment that empowers young women. By dismantling discriminatory practices, fostering supportive policies, and championing gender equality, we can unlock the immense potential of women in the global trade arena.

Fiorina Mugione, a seasoned UN Development Cooperation professional, is on the Prayaana Board, serves as an EU Capacity4Development Ambassador, co-founded Ofelia International, and holds a key role on the Accelerate Africa board, driving economic growth.

Sangeeta Khorana, a seasoned economist and data analyst with 25+ years in academia, government, consulting, and business advisory, spearheads research on trade negotiations.

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