WomenWatch - Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD): Comparative Advantage

Primary Mandate/Concentration in Relation to Rural Women

UNCTAD is the focal point within the United Nations for the integrated treatment of trade and development and the interrelated issues of finance, investment, technology and sustainable development. In line with UNCTAD's mandate to play a key role to address the trade and development problems associated with the commodity economy, special attention is placed on agriculture as well as on the links between trade and internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals, poverty reduction and gender equality. UNCTAD is committed to mainstream cross-cutting issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women, the promotion of sustainable development and full and productive employment (Accra Accord).

UNCTAD undertakes research and policy analysis on the links between trade policy and women's empowerment in agriculture through its country case studies on mainstreaming gender in trade policy. See for example the country case study of Bhutan [download case study] and of Cape Verde [download case study]. UNCTAD provides market information to small farmers, including women, through its All ACP Agricultural Commodities Programme (AAACP).

Areas of Unique Expertise/Strength

UNCTAD's strength in relation to rural women stems from its analysis of the linkages between agricultural production and trade liberalization. Considering that in most developing countries women are primarily employed in the rural sector, UNCTAD's research work on trade policy devotes special attention to the impacts of trade policy and trade liberalization on women as producers and as consumers of agricultural and food products. Moreover, considering that the expansion of agricultural capacities and food production is crucial for fighting hunger and alleviating poverty, and it is a critical component of an inclusive growth strategy, UNCTAD undertakes activities that focus on building productive capacities in developing and least developed countries to enable them to attract more investments, to upgrade technologically, to diversify their production and to better integrate into the world economy.

Approach to the Empowerment of Rural Women

UNCTAD implements activities aimed at fostering dialogue and consensus on strategies for integrating gender considerations in macro-economic policies, including trade and agriculture policies. Furthermore, the methodology and the research approach of the country case studies on trade and gender are shared with governmental officials in developing countries in order to enhance their capacity to mainstream gender in trade policy.

Small-holder agricultural producers in developing countries — especially women — face significant supply-side constraints that hinder their ability to reach markets and meet market requirements. They suffer from lack of information on price differentials at different locations or different points in the marketing chain. Furthermore, they usually do not have access to timely and accurate information on quantity traded and quality requirements, nor do they have the capacity to meet increasingly stringent requirements about quality, quantity, consistency and security of supply, or food safety standards. As financiers have typically found it risky and costly to extend financing to small farmers through conventional lending schemes, access to finance is a major obstacle for small farmers in developing countries — especially women. Without finance, small producers face difficulties to meet increasingly stringent market requirements. The dismantling of public support services (state and parastatal entities involved in provision of seeds, fertilizer and other inputs, advice and extension services, logistics services and quality control) has exacerbated further the marginalization of small producers within global markets.

UNCTAD has adopted an integrated and holistic approach to tackle these supply-side deficiencies through three operative components: 1. Market information; 2. Market intelligence; and 3. Marketing services:

  1. To enhance market information and transparency, UNCTAD is promoting the development of national market information systems for gathering, processing and disseminating commercially strategic market information on price differentials, quality requirements, etc. These modules, which exploit the same technology, can develop into sub-regional and regional integrated systems. They also include a marketing (business-to-business) mobile phone module, allowing small producers to directly link with outlets for their produce. Pilot schemes have been implemented in Cameroon (national system), the Pacific and the Caribbean (sub-regional systems). A challenge ahead is to customize these tools to meet gender-specific constraints that women may face in accessing and using the information.
  2. Public-private partnerships for standards compliance: Projects included, to varying extent, a cost-assessment component (assessing costs of compliance with agrifood safety and quality standards), a training component (training of producer groups to meet official and commercial standards in export markets), and a marketing component (promotion of marketing links with supermarkets and other outlets). Pilot projects were implemented in Ghana and in a number of Pacific island States.
  3. Innovative agricultural commodity financing instruments: As traditional financing methods generally fail to meet the needs of small scale commodity producers – especially women, UNCTAD's activities in this area have focused on new financing methods (warehouse receipt system, supply chain finance schemes, etc.) to enhance access to finance for the agricultural sector. These tools tend to focus on the borrower's performance capacity and future proceeds, rather than on traditional loan security (land and other collaterals). Accordingly, they have the potential to significantly enhance rural women's access to finance, given women's dynamic potential and the gender-specific constraints that, in many contexts, limit their access to land and other physical assets.

Key Tools/Activities Supporting the Empowerment of Rural Women

  • All ACP Agricultural Commodities Programme (AAACP)
    UNCTAD implements projects to enhance small agricultural producers' access to market information, finance and marketing outlets within the framework of the All ACP Agricultural Commodities Programme (AAACP), launched in 2007 at the initiative of the EC and the ACP Secretariat. Though not specifically geared to rural women, these projects also benefit rural women.
  • Empretec Programme
    Within the framework of the Empretec programme (a pioneering UNCTAD programme for the promotion of entrepreneurship), UNCTAD provides entrepreneurship training to rural women. As part of the ONE UN project "Entrepreneurial Network Opportunities for Poor Families", UNCTAD is involved in strengthening the entrepreneurial capacities of micro entrepreneur beneficiaries. The project is implemented in Panama, has a gender focus and the majority of beneficiaries are women from rural areas.
  • BioTrade Initiative: Strengthening the capacities of rural women to develop economic livelihood alternatives.
    Within the framework of its BioTrade Initiative, UNCTAD supports the strengthening of rural women's capacities to develop economically viable businesses. In line with the BioTrade concept, the communitarian business Jambi Kiwa (Producers Association of Medicinal Plants, Chimborazo, Ecuador) focuses on the transformation and commercialization of medicinal and aromatic plants sold at the local and national market in Ecuador. The project involves more than 600 families from farmers' communities and 80% of the beneficiaries are women. While guaranteeing the sustainable use of natural resources, it aims at improving rural women's quality of life and foster gender equality.

Inter-agency Partnerships

  • IANWGE Task Force on Gender and Trade: UNCTAD, as the task manager of the Task Force, led and coordinated the drafting of a Resource Paper on Gender Equality and Trade Policy (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/feature/trade/index.html). The publication includes a chapter on the linkages between agriculture, food security, trade and gender equality.
  • Entrepreneurial Network Opportunities for Poor Families (UNCTAD, UNDP, FAO, UNIDO, and UNWTO): The project "Entrepreneurial Network Opportunities for Poor Families" is being implemented by UNCTAD's Empretec team and the other participating agencies as part of a three-year ONE UN Programme in Provincial Panama with the objective to contribute to MDG Goal 1 to eradicate extreme poverty.
  • The country case studies on mainstreaming gender in trade policy, including their agriculture-related sections, are conducted by UNCTAD in coordination with the UN Country Office (Bhutan, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Rwanda, Angola and Uruguay).
  • Strengthening the capacities of rural women within the BioTrade Initiative (UNCTAD operates in partnership with different entities according to the country of implementation of the BioTrade Initiative).