Gender, Trade and Employment
Trade liberalization brings many changes and can be both positive and negative for both women and men depending on the current distribution of economic power and the changes and opportunities introduced.
Trade, trade policies and trade liberalization impact differently on a country’s citizens depending on their current place in the economy, and their respective access to and control over the economic assets of that society.
Trade liberalisation is not gender neutral. Gender analysis should be fully integrated into all aspects of trade policy, taking into account the invisibility of women’s production in the informal economy, women’s unequal access to formal labour markets, and the increased precariousness of labour resulting from the spread of the informal economy.
It is now well-recognized that many inequalities in economic ownership, participation and decision-making are gender-based. For example women and men may have unequal access to and control over land, credit, information and decision-making on economic matters. Furthermore, the gendered division of labour often means that formal, income-generating jobs are more often performed by men; this includes any jobs in the public domain and is also reflected in men’s greater prominence in cash-crop farming.
2. Practical example of implementation
The lack of a gender perspective in the EU-Latin America Agreements, the scarcity of information and tools to measure the effects of trade on gender relations and the lack of women's participation in the decision-making process were the problems addressed by a project implemented by WIDE (Women in Development Europe) with EC funding.
The project aimed at raising the issue of the gender implications of trade policies in the discussion forum of the EU and national government institutions dealing with trade. It also intended to strengthen the participation of civil society, particularly women, in the decision-making process shaping trade agreements. It carried out various consultations on gender and trade throughout the project period, involving
EU and Latin American trade officials in regular debate with women from NGOs working on gender and trade, and formulated concrete recommendations addressing the EU, the Mexican government and governments of MERCOSUR countries.
In order to provide substantive contributions for the debate, the project undertook research on the gender impact of EU-Latin America trade agreements, which was published and widely disseminated as a policy paper entitled International Trade and Gender Inequality: A gender analysis of the trade agreements between the European Union and Latin America: Mexico and MERCOSUR. The project was also able to develop and propose the use of analytical tools to measure the effects of international trade and trade policies on gender relations, including a set of indicators linking trade policy variables to the situation of women. Results are available in the publication Instruments for Gender Equality in Trade Agreements: European Union-MERCOSUR-Mexico.
5.3 EU Policy documents on this issue
For more than 15 years, Nigest Haile has supported women entrepreneurs in her home country Ethiopia as well as in other African countries. In an interview, the executive Director of the “Centre for African Women Economic Empowerment" (CAWEE), which was created in 2004 with the objective of empowering women exporters in Africa, explains why Europe should not loose out on making business with Africa’s growing community of female producers and exporters.
Do you think “made in Africa” is an asset and advantage or an obstacle?
It is an opportunity. The women we work with want to improve the image of the continent abroad and shape that of its individual countries. We are able to use techniques that are hundreds of years old; we have so much artwork and ancient handicrafts to offer. Yes, we are poor – but there is so much more to African countries: We have a rich cultural heritage and a beautiful diversity. What we are offering is uniquely African with hand-made products that reflect our cultural heritage.
How do African producers compete with other regions on the EU market?
We do not directly compete with suppliers from Asia for instance. We had to find our niche. We have neither the capacity nor the intention to supply the mass-market abroad. What we are trying to provide are high-end products for high-end consumers.
Why is the EU important for African women entrepreneurs?
For several reasons: First of all, the EU is a huge market, much richer and closer to us than the US. From our experience, Europeans tend to be very interested in cultural or traditionally produced products and are prepared to pay a decent price for it. Secondly, women entrepreneurs receive lots of support in the way they are leading their enterprises. Women tend to be much more socially aware and responsible as entrepreneurs than men. With decent working conditions and fair pay they have the potential to become role-models in the business world – something European institutions have recognized and want to support.
How well accepted are women entrepreneurs in African society?
Women in our countries are wives, mothers and daughters before being business women. No matter how much they split themselves, they face cultural and traditional barriers which do not allow them to fully participate in the business world. They are not able to take clients out for dinner because they have to run home to be with their families. They cannot travel around to meet potential buyers or represent their business at fairs because nobody is there to take care of their children or sick parents. Supporting women as entrepreneurs – no matter how successful – is not part of the culture.
What are the main “institutional” obstacles for women in business?
The major problem is getting finances, like capital, credits or loans. Women cannot get loans or financing because they lack any kind of security. All assets are in the names of their husbands or fathers. Without financial liquidity, the businesses are unable to respond to the huge orders they are getting, to expand their premises or employ new staff. These businesses will never have the chance to grow.
What is your solution?
The aim is to find ways and means to get a smooth and gradual development everybody can adjust to – the women and their personal environment alike. This means that we don’t only provide for training, networking and mentoring but we have to make sure these offers can be accessible and tailored to the situation of the women. We had successful experiences with business meetings during the day, workshops on the companies’ premises, efficient and well-structured trainings. One-to-one consultations and individual mentoring help to analyze single businesses. In general, there have to be opportunities for them to mix and mingle with buyers or other business people without putting them in compromising situations.