While mainstreaming gender perspectives in trade policy is a recent endeavour, countries have acquired more experience in mainstreaming other issues in trade policy, such as environmental protection and sustainable development. For example, environmental impact assessments enable countries to anticipate the possible impacts of a trade agreement on existing domestic environmental regulations as well as on a country’s ability to comply with its obligations under multilateral environmental agreements; and to assess whether policy changes would be required as a result of a trade agreement. Whether the assessment only concerns the country carrying it out or all the parties involved in a trade agreement, lessons learned through this kind of experience may prove useful when mainstreaming gender issues.(see note 93)
Similarly to environmental assessments, an analysis of the potential effects of trade policy on gender equality could be carried out in parallel with, or prior to the negotiation of a trade agreement to inform policy-makers of anticipated gender-related impacts. Trade negotiators would be provided with information on sensitive sectors where trade liberalization should be expedited, delayed or exempted with a view to enhancing or protecting female employment or female-owned enterprises.
While trade liberalization should be paced in a way responsive to its potential distinct economic and social impact on women, this does not mean that non-competitive business sectors should be protected indefinitely simply because they employ a large number of female workers. In these sectors, professional training and educational policies and other measures should be put in place to upgrade women’s skills and integration in markets and provide financing and technology that enable them to move to more competitive, higher value-added and higher technology sectors of the economy.
Encouraging all countries to conduct a gender-related assessment of trade agreements before signing them, while a sound solution in principle, could be seen as imposing an additional burden on developing countries – especially LDCs – if their institutional capacity is not strengthened in parallel. Previous experience in the environmental field shows that many developing countries face important challenges in conducting autonomous assessments of trade agreements, due to insufficient resources and data. Supporting the establishment of local research capacity in the developing world to conduct gender impact assessments of trade agreements would encourage developing countries’ governments to take ownership of gender-related policy options while enhancing the worldwide coverage of gender-related trade assessments.(see note 94)
An explicit reference to gender equality in the core text of trade agreements helps increase political commitment and may increase the availability of funding for gender-related programmes of technical cooperation. For example the Cotonou Agreement (see note 95) , which provides the legal basis of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and the ACP (Africa, Asia and the Pacific) group of countries, explicitly states that parties should respect international conventions regarding women’s rights and gender equality, and commit to include a gender perspective in “all areas of cooperation.”
In other cases, gender perspectives are addressed in the side accords that accompany the main trade agreements. For instance, the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation – one of the two side agreements of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (see note 96) – exhorts the parties to promote cooperative activities regarding, among others (a) the equality of women and men in the workplace; (b) the elimination of employment discrimination, including gender-based; and (c) equal pay for women and men. The clear integration of gender equality principles in these ad hoc mechanisms enhances the opportunities to engage civil society organizations in the design and implementation of these agreements, which usually involve labour organizations and other civil society organizations.
Some agreements embed gender considerations within their capacity development mechanisms. For example, the Labour Cooperation and Capacity-Building mechanism of the United States–Central America Free Trade Agreement (see note 97) sets out gender equality, “including the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation,” as a cooperation and capacity-building priority. Similarly, the EU–Mexico Global Agreement (see note 98) considers gender equality, along with human rights and environmental issues, as a cross-cutting issue to be mainstreamed in the development cooperation between the parties.
Finally, gender issues are also addressed in parallel activities and discussions surrounding the implementation of regional agreements or forums. This is the case, for example, with the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (see note 99), which aims to integrate gender perspectives in all policies, programmes and practices of member governments, in order to achieve greater gender equality.
Developing countries have traditionally been cautious about incorporating non-trade concerns (e.g., environmental or labour) into trade agreements. Their fear is that these considerations may result in trade barriers or that their implementation may constitute an excessive burden in terms of financial and human resources. As the same difficulties can be expected for incorporating gender perspectives into trade agreements, gender-related commitments need to be tailored to the economic and political contexts of the countries involved.
Incorporating gender components in Aid-for-Trade and other development assistance mechanisms
Multilateral development assistance frameworks such as the Aid-for-Trade (AfT) Initiative, the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to the Least Developed Countries (EIF) and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) also provide entry points to integrate gender issues in international trade.
The important role that trade can play in reducing poverty was recognized in the call made at the 2005 WTO Hong Kong Ministerial meeting for increased support to developing countries through the AfT Initiative.(see note 100) AfT aims to help developing and least developed countries offset the negative consequences arising from trade liberalization and overcome structural limitations and weak capacities that undermine their ability to produce, compete and fully benefit from emerging trade and investment opportunities.
Projects and programmes are eligible for AfT assistance if they match the trade-related development priorities of the recipient country's national development strategies.(see note 101) Thus interventions aimed at facilitating women's participation in international trade would be eligible for AfT financing if such actions were identified among the country’s trade-related priorities, national action plans, export strategies and/or trade-related poverty reduction policies. AfT financing may include the technological upgrading of women farmers, the improvement of women farmers' capacity to produce according to international standards or to private standards developed by supermarket chains, and the improvement of the operating environment of women informal cross border traders.
Gender equality focused aid within the Aid-for-Trade initiative almost tripled from US$ 0.5 billion in 2006 to US$ 1.3 billion in 2008. Even so, this represents only about 3 percent of total Aid-for-Trade (US$ 42 billion in 2008).(see note 102) The modest resources devoted to specific initiatives that target women in trade may well reflect the still limited capacity of developing countries to mainstream gender considerations in their national trade and development strategies. (see note 103)
UNDAF, which guides the directions of programmes supported by the UN at country level, can play a catalyst role for leveraging funds and promoting a broader uptake of national policy commitments to gender equality in trade. Gender equality is one of the three normative principles that inform UNDAF and a number of toolkits and frameworks have been developed to support UNDAF planning, monitoring and evaluation, including on gender mainstreaming. (see note 104)
EIF is the main mechanism through which the LDCs access additional Aid for Trade resources. EIF(see note 105) can also prompt national governments to include gender equality goals in trade in their national development strategies and assist in the delivery of trade-related technical assistance in response to needs identified by the LDCs.
In line with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness,(see note 106) the three frameworks - UNDAF, EIF and AfT – emphasize the principle of national ownership, acknowledging the prerogative of developing countries to design their national development strategies and to single out the programmes and projects that will be instrumental to their achievement.
Yet, critical institutional capacity gaps persist, at both the multilateral and national levels, to genuinely mainstream a gender dimension into policy areas that are too often perceived as gender-neutral, such as trade. The number of LDCs that have included actions aimed at improving women's participation in trade within their trade strategies and related development plans remains limited. Women's enhanced participation in trade decision-making, in the development of national action plans and in the formulation and implementation of trade-related poverty reduction strategies would be instrumental to incorporating targeted measures for women traders in the country’s trade priorities.